What is a Biotope?
A Biotope is a method of setting up an aquarium that tries to simulate the natural habitat of fishes.
The foremost is probably from an ecological viewpoint.
With the destruction of the tropical rain-forests worldwide it is important to preserve the native surroundings of our fish before they disappear forever.
Tropical fish interacting in their natural waters are completely different than the community set up we are all use to.
This leads to the second reason, with all the advances in aquatic technology maintaining such a tank is now easier than ever and obtaining the proper species whether fish or plants is usually not difficult either.
Another reason is just for the challenge.
Most of us at one time or another get bored and start to look for something new, why not try a Biotope?
There is already a growing following in the "mini reef" field with some specializing in specific sections of reefs.
We can do the same with fresh water! GLOBAL BIOTOPESPart 1 - SOUTH AMERICANNOTE:
Whilst the following descriptions were originally written for the Catfishes of this region, they are also true of the other species of tropical fish kept by the aquarist such as the Appistogrammas, Tetras etc.The Black Water Habitat
There are basically two black water habitats of interest to the aquarist.
One is amongst the dead vegetation along the river banks, and the second is amongst the large boulders in the middle of the river channel.
Both biotopes are very simple to create and maintain.
The main drawback of these systems is the need for soft, almost pure, water.
Finish off both black water tanks with a good dose of commercial, or homemade, black water extract.
To make black water extract, simply boil a large pot of aquarium-safe peat and bottle the water once it is stained dark enough.
One big chunk of peat will make several bottles of black water extract.
The drawback is that making the extract really stinks up the kitchen.The Black Water River Bank
For a river bank, lay down a thick substrate of white, or very light colored, sand which slopes up towards the back of the tank.
Sticking up out of the sand should be a "forest" of driftwood pieces, use taller "driftwood trees", which reach the tank's surface in the back, and shorter ones in the front.
This replicates the remains of small trees and bushes that have been killed by the acidic water.
Finally, collect several small branching twigs and attach them to the back of the tank (as described below) to replicate overhanging branches that have had their leaves "burned" off.
For those of you interested in cichlids, this is also the habitat of Altum angels and Uaru in the upper Rio Orinoco. Examples of catfish communities from this environment:
- Rio Cuyuni, Venezuela: Corydoras bondi, Platydoras costatus, Ancistrus, Cteniloricaria, Hypoptopoma guianense, Parotocinclus britski, Rineloricaria, Microglanis, Pimelodus blochi, P. albofasciatus, P. ornatus.
- Rio Atatpabo, Venezuela: Tatia, Corydoras osteocarus, Acanthodoras cataphractus, Orinocodoras eigenmanni, Pseudodoras niger, Liosomadoras oncinus, Acestridium.
- Rio Caura Venezuela: Sorubim lima, Pimelodus albofasciatus, Ancistrus, Lasiancistrus, Hemiancistrus, Tatia, Corydoras blochii, C. boehlkei, C. melanistius, C. osteocarus.Black Water Main River Channel
The second habitat of interest is amongst the big mid-river boulders that are home to many of the more colorful loricariids.
To create this biotope, stack a number of large rounded rocks (try to use darker-colored rocks) coming to its greatest height in the center of the aquarium. It should look like a mountain in the middle of the tank.
Once the rocks are stacked, add a one-inch substrate of fine sand over the rocks.
Stones always look more natural when the substrate is added after the stones and the stones are all of the same material.
This tank should also have substantially greater current than the river bank tank above.
Loricariids collected in this environment in the Rio Orinoco, Venezuela include L200, L128, Leproacanthicus triactus,
and several Pseudacanthicus (like L240a)
. In the Rio Xingú, Brazil, this habitat would house Hypancistrus zebra and Scobinancistrus aureatusThe White Water Habitat
White waters originate in younger mountain ranges that are still eroding large amounts of minerals and soil.
This gives the water a color similar to that of coffee with cream due to the amount of suspended sediments.
In the rainy season, white waters can look more like moving mud slides than rivers.
Driftwood usually becomes part of the habitat when the river erodes its banks and causes trees to fall in.
Since the water has a higher mineral buffering capacity, it tends to remain neutral and the driftwood does not rot as quickly.
While it is not feasible to replicate the water's color (you would not be able to see your fish), we can replicate several of the habitats.
Keep the pH near neutral and the water medium soft to medium hard.
White water fishes are amongst the most adaptable to fluctuations in hardness and pH and white water habitats are easy for most aquarists to replicate since they can utilize straight tap water.The Driftwood Snag
During the rainy season, white water rivers greatly erode their banks and bring many trees crashing down.
The fast current carries along the floating trees until enough trees are caught up together and form a snag.
These snags provide important habitats, especially for many loricariids and doradids.
To replicate this environment, simply fill the tank with driftwood.
Try not to stack the wood in an esthetic arrangement; it always looks more natural when it is sort of just dumped in the tank.
After the wood has been added, pour in a thin substrate of sand or gravel over the wood.
In the Rio Tinaco, Venezuela this would be the typical habitat of Panaque nigrolineatus, P. maccus, Hypostomus plecostomoides, Lasiancistrus sp. (L92), Hypostomus villarsi (L 153), and Hypoptopoma thoracatum
This tank should also have a strong current replicated the river's flow around and through the snag. It will also need strong filtration as wood-eating loricariids produce copious amounts of waste.The Leaf Litter
White water rivers typically contain small channels and oxbows with a lesser current and in these areas a foot or more of dead leaves can cover the substrate.
This tank should have a thin substrate of sand covered by 2-3 inches of old oak leaves.
A few pieces of driftwood can be added as well.
Given the slack current and shallow waters in these environments, they are also noticeably warmer than the main river and the water temperature can easily rise to the mid-90s (although this temperature is not recommended for the home aquarium).
Amongst the leaves hide banjo cats, small auchenipterids, Otocinclus, and Rineloricaria.
The leaf litter in Cano Domingo, houses such species as Corydoras habrosus, C. septentrionalis, and C. venezuelanus "black."
This is an attractive and easy to maintain tank, especially for the aquarist with a smaller aquarium that wishes to keep a diverse population of catfishes.Clear Water Habitats
Clear water habitats typically exist in piedmont steams where the substrate is a combination of rounded stones and sand/gravel.
Since they are more shaded, and high in elevation, the stay much cooler with average temperatures in the low to mid 70s F.
The water is typically clear, though it may turn white during the rainy season, very soft, and has a slightly acidic to neutral pH. The Piedmont Stream
This aquarium's current should be very strong and a "long" style aquarium works better than a "high" aquarium.
Simply cover the entire substrate with flat (2-3 inch deep) rounded river stones and be sure to leave lots of gaps between the stones.
Next cover these stones with a second layer and then add a thin substrate of sand.
This allows the fish to excavate their own homes.
The water flow should unidirectional and this is accomplished through the use of powerheads and PVC pipe.
The lighting should also be bright to encourage algae growth.Materials
All of the materials that you need to set up any biotope can be collected right out your back-door for free.
Sand and driftwood can be collected from ocean beaches.
Local streams and rivers are good sources for stones, driftwood, gravel, and sand.
Another good source for items like stones, vines, and bamboo is your local garden center.
If you live in a temperate area, you probably have all the leaves you could ever use laying around in your backyard (boil the leaves first to remove the tannins and so that they sink).
In all of my years of using natural materials, I have never had a problem.
Just make sure that all the items you collect in your forays are well washed first and then allowed to dry for a week.
Always collect more stones, sand, and driftwood than you believe you will need so that you will have more options when aquascaping.
You will also need a saw, wood screws (plastic if you can find them), silicone, and suction cups.
Use the saw to cut driftwood pieces to fit the tank exactly as you need them to.
Wood screws are great for attaching several pieces of driftwood together to form a false driftwood snag or series of branching roots.
Silicone is the best way to attach stones to the back of a tank.
Suction cups can be attached to driftwood pieces either to make the wood stay in place or to keep it from floating or they can be attached to branching twigs that "hang down" into the tank..
Your aquascaping options are limited only by your imagination.Part 2 - AFRICAN RIVER RAPIDS
The Zaire (Congo) River is the second largest river system in terms of volume.
This mighty river drains much of West and Central Africa.
Along its 2800 miles, the Zaire River moves through many environments including over 200 miles of rapids and cataracts.
This rapid region is the inspiration for this biotope aquarium, although similar environments exist in other African rivers. Ecosystems: Congo_Zaire, Agnebi, Bandama River, Benue River, Bia River, Buba River, Casamance River, Cross River, Gambia River, Kariba, Little Scarcies, Niger River, Ogun River, Rokel, Saint John, Saint Paul, Saloum, Senegal River, Volta, Weme, Comoé River, Corubal River, Ebrie, Fatala, Geba, Kainji Lake, Kogon, Kolente, Konkoure, Loffa, Mano, Mao, Mono River, Nipoue, Pra, Sassandra, Sewa, Tano Water:
pH: 7.0-7.5, 6-10 dH, 77-81 F (25-27 C)Tank:
The water in this habitat is highly oxygenated due to the turbulence created by the rapids, therefore the water in the aquarium should be well-aerated.
Leave plenty of open swimming area, but use some large rocks.
The substrate should be fine gravel or sand.
To create water current, place a spray bar from a canister filter, or a strong circulating pump at one end of the aquarium. Plants:
Because of the strong water current, the rapids are not a hospitable place for plants.
In the aquarium, plants can be used if they well anchored or protected from the current.
Plants suitable for such an environment include the African Water Fern (Bolbitis heudeloti) and Anubias species.Fish Species: Eutropiellus, Distichodus, Synodontis, Steatocranus, Teleogramma, LamprologusPart 3 - WEST or CENTRAL AFRICAN RIVER
West and Central Africa are full of rivers.
Some of the better known are the Zaire (Congo), Ubanghi, Niger, and the Gambia.
Within each of these river systems are numerous biotopes, this description will focus on species found in slow-moving sections and side streams. Ecosystems:
Congo_Zaire, Agnebi, Bandama River, Benue River, Bia River, Buba River, Casamance River, Cross River, Gambia River, Kariba, Little Scarcies, Niger River, Ogun River, Rokel, Saint John, Saint Paul, Saloum, Senegal River, Volta, Weme, Comoé River, Corubal River, Ebrie, Fatala, Geba, Kainji Lake, Kogon, Kolente, Konkoure, Loffa, Mano, Mao, Mono River, Nipoue, Pra, Sassandra, Sewa, Tano Water:
pH 6.9-7.2, 3-8 dH, 75-81 F (24-27 C) Tank:
The tank should be furnished with wood for hiding places, and fine gravel or sand for a substrate.
The lighting should be muted, and the water should have a slight current. Plants:
African Water Fern, Anubias, Vallisneria, Eleocharis. Fish:African tetras, Mormyrids, African Knifefish, African Butterfly fish, Synodontis, Hemichromis, Pelvicachromis, Tilapia Part 4 - LAKE TANGANYIKANOTE:
This biotope will be covered in further detail in a seperate entry.Water:
pH: 7.8-9.0, 12-20 dH, 75-82 F (24-28 C) Tank:
A rocky set-up, complete with caves and ledges is recommended.
The substrate should be fine gravel or sand, scattered with snail shells.
Use an efficient filter that creates little water current.
Make frequent water changes since Lake Tanganyika species are especially sensitive to water pollutants. Plants:
Vallisneria is the only commercially available species, but Anubias and Java Fern are also suitable if the aquariast is willing to bend the biotope rules. Fish:
Lake Tanganyika cichlids including snail shell-dwellers, Synodontis, Afromastacembelus eels, Tanganyika Rainbowfish.Part 5 - LAKE MALAWINOTE:
This biotope will be covered in further detail in a seperate entry.
Lake Malawi covers a vast area, it stretches for 375 miles and is 53 miles wide.
It is the ninth largest lake in the world.
There are over 280 known species of cichlids that inhabit these waters, it is beleived that there could be up to 500 species that actually exist there.
The largest group of cichlids in the lake are the Haplochromines, included in these are the Peacock cichlids and Labidochromis, Melanochromis etc.
Many species of these cichlids are endemic to Lake Malawi, they are not found anywhere else in the world.
The water of the lake is highly alkaline but with medium tropical temperatures.Water:
pH 7.8-8.6, 6-10 dH, 72-82 F (23-28 C) Tank:
Use a substrate that will help in buffering the water to keep the pH high, Dolomite or crushed coral are ideal for this.
Plenty of rocks should be added to provide hiding places and caves.
The more rockwork the better as aggression in a Malawi tank will be high. Plants
Theoretically there should be no plants, however if you do wish to add some then remember that many species will not tolerate the high alkalinity.
Vallisnerai, Java Fern and Anubias are the only real contenders, even if they survive the water conditions, the tank mates will also be having a go at them.
Choose your fish species carefully as Mbuna species and non-Mbuna need different diets, this could make things hard if you mix them.
Try to add the Mbuna as these are the easiest to keep and get results with breeding.
Most of these fish are mouth brooders, if one of your females is hiding away with her jaws closed and hasn't eaten for a couple of weeks. you can guarantee that she will be holding fry. SOURCES:
Badmanstropicalfish.com - http://badmanstropicalfish.com
Planetcatfish.com - http://www.planetcatfish.com
fish.mongabay.com - http://fish.mongabay.com
fishtankforum.co.uk - http://fishtankforum.co.uk