Nature at the controls...

With our heavy emphasis on utilizing natural botanical materials in our aquairums, I can't help but think about the long-term of their function and health. Specifically, the changes that they go through as they evolve into little microcosms.

Now, we're all about diligent, thoughtful maintenance of our aquariums, right? I mean, we spend a lot of time, money, and energy equipping our tanks with suitable gear, embracing excellent husbandry practices, and just stay on top of everything, in general.

That's part of being an engaged, responsible fish geek, right?

So, what happens to our tanks if we sort of "let them go" a bit? Especially, a botanical-style blackwater aquarium with a "deep leaf litter bed" or lots of botanicals? Let's say that we stop doing weekly water exchanges and slip to say, once a month. Let's say all we're doing is topping off for evaporation during that time period, feeding fishes; that's about it.

What will happen?

Will all of the botanical material continue to break down, keeping the water "tinted?" Will biofilms continue to colonize open surfaces? Will water chemistry swing wildly?  Will phosphate and nitrate accumulate rapidly? Will the aquarium descend into chaos?

Or, will it simply continue to function as usual?

I mean, when you think about it, the natural, botanical-style blackwater aquarium is sort of set up to replicate a habitat where all of this stuff is taking place already. Leaves, seed pods, etc. are more-or-less ephemeral in nature, and are constantly breaking down in these environments. Decomposition, accumulation of epiphytic growth, and colonization of various life forms is continuous.

How much more will things change by simply delaying water exchanges for several weeks? By not siphoning detritus at all? Will this really become some sort of problem? Or, will the bacteria, fungal growths, and other microorganisms and crustacean life living in our botanical substrates continue to do what they do- break down organic waste and reproduce?

I can't help but wonder if a natural, botanical-style blackwater aquarium can better handle a period of "benign neglect" than many typical systems...Not that I'd want to do this, mind you... I'm a fairly diligent/borderline obsessive maintenance guy. I love my weekly water exchanges. But I can't help but wonder what happens in one of these systems if we let "nature take the controls" for a while? 

An interesting question...and perhaps an interesting experiment for the intrepid hobbyist. Don't ask me why this was on my mind this morning!

I open the discussion up to you.

Stay curious. Stay open-minded. Stay observant. Stay diligent. Stay adventurous...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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