By starting with a particular environment, you can organize your community aquarium in the form of a “Ecotop” where you recreate a very specific environment and populate it with two or three compatible species that characterize this environment.
Why I call these “Ecotop” rather than “habitat”? “Biotope” – literally “life-place” – puts the actors against a setting. The “eco” Ecotop of the same element as in ecology, and also in the economy, it is derived ultimately from the Greek word for household. Ecology studies the “household of nature,” with all its interdependent organisms, whether they play dominant roles or minor. “Ecotop” reminds you that the biotic community is not merely passive inhabitants of their environment, but they have a shaping influence on their local ecosystem that delivers CO2 or oxygen, reworking detritus, building humus, grazing patterns in algal mats, excavation nests or otherwise convert it. Organisms can not be separated from the setting.
Biologists also prefer the word “Ecotop” which was coined by AG Tansley in 1936 to describe a natural unit of living and non-living components that interact to form a dynamically stable system. “Ecotop” denotes an isolatable integrated ecological unit, consisting of a community of living organisms and their physical environment at any given time.
Let me once again that the ecological definition of “community,” a group of bacteria, protists, plant and animal populations are limited by the specific area they live in and contribute to shaping and maintaining its characteristic physical attributes. You can see that it describes an aquarium quite well, too.
The Ecotop is a fine-scale system with a uniform nature. It’s less than a landscape or a turning point, it is the smallest isolatable unit. It’s not your whole garden, which is a Ecotop, just in the compost, or in the outskirts of unmown grass around the edge of the lawn, or even the place where you keep knocking out the ashes from your barbecue.
A Ecotop is a micro habitat. And because it is a micro-habitat, you can make a stab at suggesting it, even the constraints of a glass tank. So a good choice for a Ecotop aquarium will be specific and restricted.River systems provide an inexhaustible number of “places” you can restore a certain degree, but George Reclos sensible deflated ambitions of a generic “Amazon” biotope aquarium as one of his “aquarium myths.”
In restoring your artificial Ecotop, you may be unnecessarily doctrinaire. You can insist on a broad-leafed Echinodorus in your Orinoco rather than an Anubias that emerged in the Congo Basin. Or you could be more flexible in your plant choices. Gunther Sterba, to Aquarium Care (1967), noted in a brief section on “biotope” aquarium fish is in no way dependent on certain species of plants, some insects, but rather on certain plant forms and leaf shapes. It does not matter to the fish, it shelters under a plant from Africa, Asia or the New World, the important thing is the type of accommodations available. Similarly, the species that spawn on leaves bound only to some leaf shapes. And unlike some butterflies, the plant-eating fish feed on a wide range of plants.
Dr. Sterba is “biotope” proposal never caught on the U.S. It was Rainer Satwikowski book, Biotope Aquarium (1993), presenting eight different aquarium “biotopes” with lots of color photographs, which first got a lot of North American aquarists think of restoring specific water environments. Aquarists still tend to use “biotope” here in the U.S.
Habitat degrade naturally into some useful broad categories such as rainforest, monsoon forest and savanna, which applies to tropical systems everywhere. At Badman tropical fish you can find specific suggestions for plants and fish to induce the general character of South America and Southeast Asia Blackwater or slow-flowing swamp. There are also some suggestions for Ecotop aquariums e-aquarium, and Simon Min Aquatic Eden, a personal website.
Lists of species and plants found in those regions could offer you some broad outlines beginning in which you might want to recreate a more focused and specific biotope.
Universal properties. Although the species constituting the local flora and fauna are endemic to every part of the world in general, are the kinds of freshwater environments similar throughout the tropics. Hillstreams, for example, has steep slopes, where rapids and torrents scour gravel and seasonal floods can wash the finer substrate. Tropical hillstreams have many common features, where you find them. Plankton are getting there. Temperatures are cool. Water is still moderately soft. However, depending on the continent you’re working in, hill stream fish become Southeast Asian or South American Homalopterids Loricariids.
Seasonal flooding in tropical and subtropical climates that experience the strong alternation of wet and dry seasons are generally characterized as “monsoon” only in the Indian Ocean and Asia, but similar climatic conditions with a consistent “dry” season creates a characteristic vegetation in West Africa and in the new world too. In any of these strongly seasonal climates, streambeds tend to accumulate tangle of brush under Spaten of water masses, tangles which can last through several annual cycles. Waterlogged brush provides essential cover for many kinds of fish in vegetation-free waters. “Monsoon” type forests are deciduous, canopy opened when the leaves fall during the dry season and for several months at a time bright light penetrates into watercourses.
In contrast, a trend “everwet” tropics to keep a close leafy canopy throughout the year and their shadowy forest streams support no vegetation, they do not flood every year, but their streambeds accumulating a deep litter of tree leaves.
Other widespread freshwater habitats could focus your overall image in a particular Ecotop: river backwaters or shoreline pools where tree roots have eroded out of a red clay bank. Low tannin water over a white silica sand bank. Lowland streams, perhaps with leaf-litter banks, perhaps with overhanging vegetation. Have scour the effect of water in a standing rifle exposed buried cobbles? Or woody roots? Dim forest pools. Several light-shaded pools in savanna grasslands. Is pastures flooded by high water seasons, like the Brazilian / Bolivian Pantanal? Or rather it is forest that is flooded every year, like an Amazonian Varzea? Clearwater rivers Blackwater, of course, but would you dare to recreate a whitewater Ecotop with catlitter lateritic clay mormyrids? Oxbow lakes. Blackwater lakes. Open Water ponds or water lily-covered pools. Seasonally adjusted flooded Riverside grass meadows of the new world, or man-made Asian water meadows made for growing grass, which is rice. Reedbeds. Swamps. Peat Bogs. Or coastal peat forest, as the east coast of Sumatra has become? A weed-choked drainage ditch in Burma or the equivalent in Thailand? Underground limestone caves offer unique surroundings, usually with endemic fish.
If your “Ecotop” aquarium is conjuring up a small pool or stream, you will especially want to limit the number of fish species. “Upland forest streams and tributary headwaters exhibit a low alpha but high beta diversity,” says Professor James Albert, U. of Florida. “This means that relatively few species inhabit each location, but there is a high turnover in species composition between localities. The opposite pattern is seen in flood plains, where many species coexist and each species has a wider range.”
One characteristic of a Ecotop is that it is unlikely to contain populations of two very similar species. But the temptation to assemble a Noah’s Ark is hard to overcome: I have just read about a Piranha “biotope” is described on a website – but it had three different species of piranhas in it. In fact a Ecotop is unlikely to have even two entirely different species, if their living requirements are very similar.
The more specific nature of your Ecotop, the more interesting it becomes. Algae-covered rocky rubble at the foot of a boulder near the shore of Lake Malawi puts perhaps too familiar scene for the Malawi mbuna cichlids. But the specific mix of species and morphs will differ from one bay to the next. Less known is the “snail graveyard” in Lake Tanganyika, where the coarse sand bottom is near full of peel of Neuthauma snails, making homes dwarf Neolamprologus. The surface of the water is more important in a Ecotop for Archer Fish that live in a tangle of mangrove roots in brackish water coastal environments.
Often in a Ecotop conception is the edge habitat that is most interesting: the edge of a dense tangle of a single species of Cryptocoryne clearly fulfills the area where the current is too strong for plants, in a Malaysian forest stream. Photos of characteristic Ecotop are sprinkled through many hobby-oriented books, even Baensch Atlas. Look them in detail for ideas. You can find some beautifully restored Ecotop in many of the modern public aquariums, though none of them seem to be illustrated and described on the Internet. So far, the familiar parade of killer whales, sharks and tropical reefs.
Good Ecotop aquarium planning may take some ingenuity. See how aquarist arranged a fast flowing stream over pebbles, perfect for hill stream Loaches, Martin Thoenes revised article “A river runs through it” on Loaches online.