When we first started Tannin Aquatics, the goal was to offer all sorts of useful natural products, with the intention of creating a selection of materials which impact the aquairum environment in many different ways.
One of the fun things about the botanical method aquarium is that, to a certain extent, it's "anything goes" in terms of materials that you can use to represent the wild habitats. I mean, when you think about flooded forest floors and rainforest streams, you're talking about an aggregation of material from the forest that has accumulated via wind, rain, and current.
This is a remarkable and fascinating habit to replicate in the aquarium. As opposed to a more "contrived" 'scape, with a carefully selected piece or pieces of of driftwood, what I'm framing out here is a more simple, less "placement-oriented", and far more natural-looking 'scape.
I mean, sure, you could certainly use some aesthetic thought in the concept, but when you're trying to recreate what in nature is a more-or-less random thing, you probably don't want to dwell too much on the concept! Rather, put your effort into selecting good-looking materials with which to do the job.
Thats where we come in.
(Yeah, you knew I was going to get there somehow, right?)
We have aggregated (pun sort of intended) a nice selection of interesting twigs, branches, and tangles (as I like to call smaller stuff) with which to accomplish this. The beautiful thing about this idea is that you don't necessarily have to use 12 different varieties of branches and such to create a remarkably complex and interesting scape.
It's not just about then aesthetic, of course. The idea is that you're creating a matrix of these materials to impart a very natural and interesting look to the aquarium. These aggregations provide fishes with hiding places, foraging areas, and spawning sites, just like they do in Nature.
We're talking mainly about twigs and roots...nto big branches here.
Now, such root/branch tangles DO take up some physical space in the confines of the aquarium, and you need to take this into account when stocking, equipping, and maintaining such systems. Access, water capacity, and filter intakes/outputs need to be considered when you move in a project like this...but that's half the fun, anyways- right?
At the end of the day, the use of twigs, roots, and branches, the organisms which take advantage of them is one of the most stunning aspects of Nature that we can see in our own aquariums, provided we don't "edit" them out of our tanks.
Like any dynamic habitat, the "twig and root" microhabitat relies on a variety of organisms to do the job of processing nutrients. A diverse assemblage of organisms dwelling in this layer, ranging from bacteria to fungi, to worms and small crustaceans- comprise what we call the "infauna." Essentially, the infauna is a collective of organisms which do most of the work in keeping a botanical-style aquarium functional and healthy.
Be kind to these organisms, and they'll no doubt be kind to you, too! THAT is what the big talk over twigs is all about!
Stay innovative. Stay observant. Stay engaged. Stay curious...
And Stay Wet.
And of course, you could always incorporate a layer of leaf litter, which really seems to go perfectly with this type of niche. In nature, we see leaves and other materials accumulate in these root tangles and aggregations of fallen branches, so recreating this in nature is kind of a "no brainer!"
When assembled in conjunction with a nice aggregation of leaves, this configuration provides a remarkably interesting aquarium with a different sort of aesthetic.
And the nice thing about utilizing tangled branches in an aquascape, as opposed to a more traditional "wood-centric" 'scape, is that you can end up with something that is incredibly realistic and functional.
And you get some advantages. Case in point?
The potential to keep little groups of fishes, (like my beloved Checkerboard cichlids) behaving naturally in the same tank. Now, I'm no cichlid expert, but I do have a certain love for keeping little "communities" of fishes like Checkerboards together. Oh, and what about Darter characins? Fishes like that? Lots of possibilities, huh?
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of such an aquascaping configuration is to foster natural behaviors and spawning activities among the resident fishes. I would imagine that for "uncontrolled" breeding of many species, the dense matrix of twigs and leaves would create a very good environment for this!