Over the past few years, biotope aquariums have become popular all over the world. Exotic fish and plant lovers are creating a mini-ecosystems in their homes, skilfully copying natural habitats and creating perfect conditions for keeping them.

What Is a Biotope Aquarium?

A biotope aquarium is a mimicked natural habitat where certain animals and plants live and interact together. The name Biotope is coined from 2 Greek words, ‘bios’ and ‘topos,’ which means life and place. With this, you can define Biotopes Aquarium as an artificial place set up for a particular animal and plant to live together.

Setting up a Biotope aquarium depends mainly on the natural habitat you are trying to imitate. Also, the kinds of animal and plant species that co-exist in this natural home. It is, however, advised that you research the types of animals and the plants suitable for your homemade Biotope aquarium.

Why Set Up a Biotope Aquarium?

There are so many compelling reasons why one can set up a Biotope aquarium; below are some.

  • To have a feel of the natural habitat of fish and plants in your home.
  • Maintaining the tank and getting the species is not tasking.
  • Trying something different from the regular aquarium you find around.
  • You can also set it up for the fun of it, especially if you are a lover of nature.

Irrespective of the type of biotope aquarium you choose to build, the following are to be considered.

  • Animals: a biotope is described as a place where a particular type of fish and plant live together. In other words, finding out what kind of fish live in the natural environment you are setting up is highly essential and the types of plants that are suitable.
  • Plants: are there different types of plants in this Biotope or just a particular type.
  • Rock: this can be replaced with stones depending on the type of bedrock or background you want to get
  • Water: The amount of water is determined by the Biotope tank you want to set up
  • Substrate: there are various substrates for different biotope settings. You can have gravel, sand, wood, stones, branches, etc.
  • Aquarium: the aquarium fittings are essential to suit whichever Biotope you choose.
  • Lightning: light in the Biotope gives it the natural habitat sunlight effect.

South American /Amazon Biotope

To recreate this biotope it is a fairly easy task with a little imagination. Fine sand or clay needs to be used for the substrate. Create formations using driftwood, as it will help to reduce the pH as well as adding tannins to the water to give the coffee coloured effect. Be creative with the wood to create interesting shapes but don’t make it look too formal, random is better. Random planting with the suggested plants should also be random, try to cover areas of the wood to provide hiding places. Lighting needs to be subdued and the water flow from the filtration should be very low.

Sword plants and Vallisneria is all that is needed for this biotope as the wood arrangements are the main feature. Sword plants come in a variety of sizes according to the species, so include several different species in the tank and use the Vallisneria as a back ground to middle ground plant. Always plant randomly.

This biotope can either be a discus or angelfish biotope but do not mix them. For the more inexperienced fish keeper I would recommend going for the angelfish biotope as they are a much hardier species. Tetras, especially cardinal tetras look really stunning if added as a small shoal, and for the bottom feeders a group of Corydoras will keep the substrate clean. Other fish that can be used are Hatchet fish, Loricarids and Dwarf cichlids. Apistogrammas will always provide entertainment in the tank.

Indian/Burmese River Biotope

The suggested tank size for this project should be at least 100L but as with any aquarium try to use the largest that you can afford. When adding your substrate use fine gravel or sand on top of a planting medium as this biotope needs to be heavily planted to get the full effect. Rocks and driftwood should be added for hiding places and shelter, also they will provide some shady areas for the fish trying to have a rest from the lighting. Add these in a random fashion to make it look more natural rather than a set out design. As this will be heavily planted, bright lighting will need to be used and possibly the addition of a CO2 system should also prove to be beneficial.

The plants suggested for this biotope are high lighting plants so the best lighting you can afford is a must. For the background a mixture of Rotala and Aponogeten are ideal. Mid ground I would suggest Indian fern and in some tanks is used as a floating plant but in this case we do not want to block out any of the light. Foreground I would suggest a mixture of Eleocharis and Blyxa Japonica.

There are quite a lot of species of fish to choose from for this biotope. Danios, rosy barbs, glass catfish, gouramis, spiny eels. Climbing perches, loaches, Bala and silver sharks can also be added. Plus there are many more that can be use.

Central American Biotope

The main décor in this tank is large, sturdy rock structures. Smaller tanks may struggle to provide enough space so a minimum tank size of 250 liters (55 gallons) is recommended. Add the rocks first to build up your structure, and then add the sand around the rocks to form the substrate. The main reason for this is fish tend to burrow in sand; this will cause your rocks to topple if placed on top of the sand. Water current needs to be kept low, turn down the outlets on your filters to replicate this.

Plants will struggle to survive in these alkaline, hard water conditions. Any that does will be destroyed by the cichlid inhabitants making it useless to attempt any planting at all.

Livebearers are one of the hardiest fish species, this makes them very popular with fish keepers and there is a great deal of choice. Bear in mind that cichlids are also going to be added to this biotope so the smaller species could be seen as food, select your inhabitants carefully. Cichlids that can be added are convict cichlids, red devil cichlids, Texas cichlids and so on.

Lake Malawi Biotope

Provide plenty of rockwork and caves with hard alkaline water with a pH of at least 7.8. The bottom substrate should be of a material that will aid in the pH buffering capabilities of the water. Good substrate choices could be Dolomite or crushed coral to aid in buffering the water. Tankmates should be from the same area and be able to fend off their attentions.Arrange the stones in your aquarium so that caves, crevices and hiding places are created. Leave an open space of sand in the front of the aquarium. Scatter a few smaller rocks around the sand but separate from each other.

 The rocks at the back need to be stacked up along the back so that they reach the surface and even break the surface of the water in places. To ensure the safety of your glass and fish, use silicone to glue rocks together to create a stable rock formation.

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.

Lake Malawi cichlids (Mbuna, Peacock cichlids) and Synodontis will go absolutely well in this setup. You need good quality lighting that will encourage rock algae without causing an algae bloom. Also, too bright a light will spook the fish. In Lake Malawi the waters are not pristine and there is a little murkiness there.

Lake Tanganyika Biotope

The rocky shore biotope can be divided into three different parts: the shallow rocky coast habitat, the rocky sediment-free habitat, and the rocky sediment covered habitat. Close to the surface, you will find the shallow rock biotope and its inhabitants. As you proceed farther down, you will enter the steep rocky environment where no sediment can congregate – the rocky sediment-free habitat. Below this biotope is the third and final rock biotope, the rocky sediment covered habitat.

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.

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.

Lake Tanganyika cichlids include snail shell-dwellers, Synodontis, Afromastacembelus eels, Tanganyika Rainbowfish.

Biotope aquarium occupies a special place. Recreating natural waterbodies includes copying not only natural biotopes with similar natural decorations, water parameters and live fish and plants that live in a certain biotope together, but also best conditions for keeping and breeding fish.

Happy Fishkeeping!!!

 * The author of this article is an advanced aquarium hobbyist with an Aquarium at his place even before his birth. Today he promotes the pet keeping hobby apart from maintaining his own aquarium. He can be contacted  on +919820270247 or samgudhate@gmail.com

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