Takashi Amano, from Japan, was the first person to turn the idea of creating impressive overwater landscapes, such as a mountain chain complete with forests and meadows, into reality underwater, in around 1992. Amano is a gifted photographer and he titled his first book of these breathtaking aquarium pictures “Plant Paradises Underwater”, with the subtitle “Japanese Gardens in the Aquarium”. This was really when Aquascaping, which can be translated as “water design”, was born. Inspired by Amano, aquarists began to turn their own ideas and impressions of overwater landscapes into reality for aquariums. Aquariums were being created which made people stop and stare. Soon, however, there were more and more scapes with similar mountain and meadow landscapes (known as Iwagumi) and the search went on for new ideas. Traditional Aquascaping began to split into different schools. There were the followers of entirely plant-based aquariums creating underwater gardens (plantscaping) and there were the fans of mountains and meadows and other overwater landscapes, such as pine forests and mountainsides with cacti, who continued to lovingly craft these landscapes underwater. And then came the criticism that this no longer had anything to do with appropriate fish keeping; the fish were cruising over “meadows” like airplanes in the sky. There were often no hideaways for the fish to retreat into and along came the idea of “Biotope Aquatics”. Biotope is another word for living space and that’s exactly what biotope scaping is about: reproducing natural living spaces underwater. The aquarist looks out information about the biotope he or she is interested in (books and magazines, internet) and then procures the “ingredients” needed for the chosen aquarium interior. Attention is also paid to whether the fish, invertebrates and plants in the aquarium really occur together in the original biotope. Cultivated species of fish and plants are not used, because these are never of natural origin. While it would not be difficult to reproduce a true tropical river biotope with its brown water, no plants, wood at the sides and fine substrate, covered in fallen leaves. This is the fascination: The scaper attempts to make these features attractive, which is not always easy!
JBL has divided traditional aquascaping into three groups, because the three variations cannot be compared to each other in a competition. After all, how can a jury assess a biotope aquarium, which shows the stoney Lake Tanganyika next to a beautifully planted plantscape? It is more important for JBL to know that EVERY aquarist can access the right products to enable them to care long-term for densely planted aquariums and thereby become a ProScaper. When they have reached this stage, they can decide upon the Scape variation they would like to specialize in: They can now decide whether to specialize in plant gardens (Plant-Scape, which often used to be known as Dutch planted aquarium), or in the reproduction of overwater landscapes (aquascaping)? Or are you a fan of natural living spaces? In this case biotope scaping would be the perfect choice. Within this last category the following subcategories are possible: the strictly biotope aquarium with animals and decorative elements, which really occur in the original biotope, or the more liberal variation, in which the occasional stone or plant, which does not belong in the original living space, is used.
An imaginative plant arrangement with or without decoration material under water. The style of the Dutch planted aquariums falls into this category.
Reproduction of an above water landscape inside the aquarium: this time under water. There are different styles, such as Iwagumi: mountain range with meadow landscape (under the heading "alpine meadows"), traditional: above water landscape (such as a forest with paths), reproduced under water or art-scaping: imagined underwater worlds or fantasy landscapes like floating worlds (Avatar).
Reproduction of natural habitats. There are two options: you can follow a biotope model closely, using only the animals, plants and decorative elements found within this natural habitat. Alternatively you can create a biotope simulation of an underwater landscape. Here you don't worry too much about the exact origin of the plants, animals or decorative materials used, but concentrate on the functional processes in a biotope. Biotope-scaping is the most demanding scaping style, because even the extreme habitats have to be visually appealing as well as realistic.