In the murky, tinted world of jungle streams, flooded forests, and shallow rivers, there are a number of common features that, as a Natural-Style aquarium lover, you're inexorably drawn to.
Yeah, there is something incredibly compelling about the way terrestrial trees and shrubs interact with the aquatic environment. Not only do they help "secure the soils" from falling away, they foster epiphytic algae, fungal growth, and biofilms, which supplement the foods of the resident fishes. And of course, they provide a physical habitat for fishes to forage, seek shelter, and reproduce among. In short, these roots create a unique "microhabitat" which harbor a diversity of life.
And they look pretty aesthetically cool, too!
So yeah- this makes them an irresistible subject for a natural-looking- and functioning- aquascape!. And relatively easy to execute, too!
With a variety of interesting natural materials readily available to the hobbyist, it's easier than ever to recreate these habitats in as detailed a version as you care to do.
Look at the way rocks, soil and branches come together in Nature to form interesting physical spaces that fishes utilize for protection, foraging, and reproduction.
By replicating the complex look and physical attributes of these features, including rich substrate, roots of various thickness, and leaves, we offer our fishes all sorts of potential microhabitats. In the aquarium, we tend to focus on the "macro" level- creating a nice wood stack, perhaps incorporating some rock- but we seldom see the whole picture allowed to come together in a more natural way.
This was what inspired me in the latest iteration of my home "planted" blackwater aquarium. The interaction between the terrestrial elements and the aquatic ones. Allowing terrestrial leaves to accumulate naturally among the "tree root structure" we have created fosters this more natural-functioning environment. As these leaves begin to soften and ultimately break down, they will foster microbial growth, biofilms, and fungal growths- all of which will provide supplemental foods for the resident fishes...just like what happens in Nature.
Facilitating these processes- allowing the materials to accumulate naturally and break down "in situ" is a key component of replicating and supporting these microhabitats in our aquariums. The typical aquarium hardscape- artistic and beautiful as it might be, generally replicates the most superficial aesthetic aspects of such habitats, and tends to overlook their function- and the reasons why such habitats form.
Now, we see many aquariums which feature wood and leaves, of course. However, I think we don't see a tremendous use of smaller branches, roots, and "twig-sized" pieces, and I think that is something we would definitely like to see more of in our aquariums. There is something remarkably realistic about the presence of these smaller materials in an aquarium.
The complexity and additional "microhabitats" they create are compelling and interesting. And they are very useful for shelling baby fishes, breeding Apistogramma, Poecilocharax, catfishes, Dicosssus, an other small, shy fishes which are common in these habitats.
Small root bundles and twigs are not traditionally items you can find at the local fish store or online. I mean, you can, but there hasn't been a huge amount of demand for them in the aquascaping world lately...although my 'scape scene contacts tell me that twigs are becoming more and more popular with serious aquascapers for "detailed work"...so this bodes well for those of us with less artistic, more functional intentions!
And of course, that was the inspiration for our "Twenty Twigs" product- one of our most popular botanical items. Why? Because there is something incredibly beautiful about the tangle of roots and branches that you can create.
And I think we are starting to see more adventurous use of different materials, such as Catappa or Red Mangrove bark, to more accurately simulate these habitats.
There are many, many creative nuances that we can apply to the recreation of these unique habitats! As always- look to Nature for your inspiration!
Stay excited. Stay inquisitive. Stay creative. Stay inspired...
And Stay Wet.