A Central American coastal stream, a South-East Asian creek or a rocky coast at Lake Malawi in Africa - such underwater landscapes make the hearts of many aquarists beat faster. And many have only one wish: to recreate a small section of a biotope like this as accurately as possible in their own aquarium.
So-called biotope aquaristics has been around for a very long time, but have recently become increasingly popular. Unlike a classic community tank, in which the plants and animals often come from very different geographical regions, these basically concern only flora and fauna from a clearly defined distribution area.
"Nature is the model for biotope aquaristics. Aquarists base the design of their tanks on real conditions. Both freshwater and marine aquariums can be planned in this way. Usually only the original form of the animals is kept in a biotope aquarium. Breeding forms featuring special colours or veil fins are nowhere to be found.”
Current, light and aquarium shape
Once you have decided on a particular biotope, the first step is to get as much information as possible about the region, its biodiversity and the living conditions of the fish, invertebrates and plants. Of course, a study trip to explore the underwater landscape directly on site is best, but researching at home will also do. It's helpful to talk to other aquarium enthusiasts, read specialist literature and relevant blogs, or talk to a specialist dealer. Looking at Google Images for ideas about the region you’ve chosen can also help enormously.
"It is in the nature of things that the species living in a biotope aquarium prefer the same conditions in terms of water values, temperature, light and current. The aquarium technology, such as heating, lighting, pump and filter, needs to be adapted accordingly."
It makes a crucial difference whether the model biotope is, say, a forest pond - shaded by trees and the water has a low pH value due to the many leaves that have fallen into it - or a sun-drenched, bubbling brook. The technology used should always be hidden as well as possible so that it does not disturb the natural impression of a biotope tank.
The shape of the aquarium and its capacity are also crucial when creating the biotope you have chosen. Standard aquariums are usually high with low back to front depth while aquarists often tend to use shallow natural water bodies as a guide. It’s still worth considering whether you really need a special format. After all, a large base area offers more possibilities for design and more space for the fish to form territories. The height of the tank becomes important if you want to stock it with inhabitants that also live in different water layers on top of each other in nature, or if the biotope is a vertical rock wall. If you want to create a section of a stream, a not too high, elongated aquarium is ideal. It is technically easy to create an intensive current in this aquarium.
Set-up of interior
The design of the aquarium is also based on natural models. In fast-flowing streams, for example, the upper layer of the substrate usually consists of smoothly ground pebbles only, in other waters there are sandy bottoms and in some lakes the fish live directly between the rocky reefs. In the biotope aquarium, we attempt to select the respective substrate as precisely as possible in terms of material, grain size and colour. This has both visual and practical reasons: Bottom-dwellers in particular have adapted their mouth shape and foraging to suit their natural substrate. The roots, branches and stones brought in for decoration or to build hiding places and retreats also need to correspond to the chosen biotope to give the tank a natural appearance.
Of course, aquatic plants also occur in certain, limited conditions, but there is not usually the same wide range of variation in nature as in most aquariums. Many rivers are even completely free of plants except for on/at their banks.
"Nevertheless, aquascaping, i.e. the design of visually appealing sceneries, also has its place in biotope aquaristics. Typical aquascaping designs - such as working with the golden section or with vanishing points and open spaces – are definitely transferrable to biotope aquariums. Good aquascapers manage to create a real work of art from a scene with foliage on the floor and some wood in the water. And that is exactly what makes it art!“
No matter how accurately the biotope has been recreated, it will always differ from its natural original in some respects. Daily uniformity, as it prevails in most aquariums, rarely exists in the wild. In the wild, the waters often change greatly as the seasons change. Rainfall or hot spells, say, always hugely influence the water values and temperature. The fish’s food supply usually varies a lot too - there are times when insect larvae are plentiful and others when they are scarce.
"If you want your biotope aquarium to be absolutely authentic, you can also imitate these natural seasonal fluctuations. It’s up to you how true to the original you want your biotope to be. Biotope aquaristics is also an interesting hobby for aquarium beginners, provided they do their research beforehand and are aware that the choice of fish, invertebrates, plants and decoration is limited, as it is in biotope they have chosen to recreate."
Tip: With the help of the JBL LED SOLAR CONTROL you can, say, load biotope data from the Pantanal (Southwest Brazil) or from the region of the East African Rift Lakes (Malawi-Tanganyika). Your LEDs will then recreate the climatic situations there according to the season (incl. dry and rainy seasons, thunderstorms & clouds).