The interactions between water and land are something we've thought about and discussed fairly often here in "The Tint", and it's a topic which continues to hold my fascination. A lot of the research I did before I started my brackish water aquarium centered upon this land/water interaction and the flora and fauna that exist there.
In the case of brackish water estuaries and such, you have mangroves and palms. An interesting palm is the Nypa Palm, Nypa fruticans, from which a number of our favorite botanicals come from, by the way, such as "Rio Fruta" These are interesting palms because they are ecologically adapted to growing in wet substrates with salt content, like mangrove swamps!
And then, there are those peat swamps...
I was looking at some pictures of a Southeast Asian "peat swamp" the other day, and I noticed some of the plant growth along the shoreline. I was particularly fascinated by the tangles of what, our want of a better word, appeared to be "reeds." I saw these plants extending into the water in massive thickets...and of course, I thought to myself, "I'll bet a ton of fishes live among those! I'll bet that would make a cool aquarium feature, too"
And they do. Fishes like Betta, Rasbora, Gouaramis, and others are found in these thickets, all part of a rich and surprisingly diverse little ecosystem!
Now, the term "reed" is a pretty broad descriptor, and refers to any number of tall, grass-like plants which inhabit wetlands around the world. As you might surmise, wetlands in and of themselves are really interesting habitats, and include such obsession-inducing ecological niches as mangrove swamps, varzea, and the aforementioned peat bogs!
Wetlands may be saturated with water either seasonally or permanently, and are home to aquatic AND terrestrial plants. They are among the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems- and as such, are a really fascinating subject for our aquarium work, right?
The water chemistry and biodiversity of wetland habitats is dependent upon the source of the water and the geological material which it flows through. The soils support biological activity and diversity within the aquatic ecosystem, and provide not only a literal "foundation" for plant growth, but a zone in which various microorganisms, insects, worms, and other life forms thrive, forming the basis of a food chain.
Many of these habitats are inundated year-round, although some wetlands are ephemeral in nature, such as the varzea in South America, or even some of those temporary pools you find in the plains of Africa, which are home to some of our favorite annual killifishes, such as Nothobranchius.
So, if you're thinking what I'm thinking...and I know that you are- the fact is, there are numerous ways to replicate these types of environments in the aquarium!
And the creative options are many and varied. You can construct something as faithful to the real thing as possible, really trying to be biotopically correct- or you could go for something inspired by these habitats.
Those peat swamps from Southeast Asia keep calling me...They're a very interesting and distinct ecological niche. With a little research, and use of the right plants and materials, many of which are readily available- really authentic representations of these habitats can be made!
Of course, you have regions in South America, such as the Pantanal, in which many grasses and other plants grow together to create a very unique habitat. And there are a LOT of cool fishes that live there!
(Photo by Alicia You, used under CC BY-SA 3.0)
Of course being the aquarium geek that I am, I felt it would be important to source materials which would work to help create the "reeds and grasses" associated with these habitats. When this bug hit a while back, I hit up a few of my favorite suppliers in Southeast Asia to see if they had any materials which would be useful for this type of aquarium...And of course, one of them came through with some interesting stuff in the form of Lotus stems!
Well, I've been testing them for a while, and discovered that they are like ultra lightweight, and really not the most long-term durable materials to use in an aquatic situation, but they are authentic! We'll see how well they hold up under submersion for a bit longer before deciding if they're worth releasing for sale, but I admit it's not looking all that promising thus far, lol. 😂
In the mean time, you can use other stuff, like bamboo sticks in your aquascape. These have been used before, and are definitely an authentic component of these habitats. Bamboo has been used for many years in aquariums in a variety of aquascaping applications, and is obviously appropriate in these types of habitats.
And of course, we have other types of stems and "reed-like" elements you could use to help recreate this habitat, stuff like Coco Palm stems, which may be used in a "vertical" format. Now, these are not reeds and grasses, of course, but they could evoke the feeling of this niche.
Of course, the idea of grasses just won't leave my head...In those flooded iagpo forest floors of Amazonia, you see terrestrial grasses holding on throughout the year, creating a fascinating biotope.
I think that the intrepid hobbyist could likely source some grasses, like Spartina, which could help recreate the function and form of these habitats.
I am positive that Spartina and other grasses would be amazing in an aquarium setting, if you could source them and work with them in rich aquatic soils, of which there are many commercially available for planted aquariums nowadays. If you're up to the task, the materials you need are out there!
So, we hope that all of this talk about some of the unique land/water habitats of the world and their interactions inspires you to do some more research, and perhaps create an aquarium featuring this unique ecological component!
Stay creative. Stay resourceful. Stay experimental. Stay excited...
And Stay Wet.