Instructions to build a biotope aquarium along with forum
The article below is an introduction to starting a biotope aquarium, and it also included links to the most common biotopes in the aquatic hobby. The linked articles contain all information including parameters of water that are natural to each location, plant and fish species, and setup-related tips too. Of course you're welcome to post your questions or experiences with your fish tanks and setting up biotopes at the bottom of this page!
The aim of all decent fish keepers is to provide the best conditions for their fish/livestock and also provide an aquarium that is aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Obviously the conditions provided depends on the species of fish that you wish to care for, for example do they prefer soft, acidic water or hard, alkaline water etc. so doing some research before you purchase the fish always pays huge dividends for their long term care.
A certain percentage of fish keepers take this one step further and try to re-create the species natural living conditions, duplicating their natural habitat as closely as is possible bearing in mind the limits that the aquarium does give you but often the replications prove to be very successful and well worth the effort.
This is what an aquarium biotope is all about, researching and replicating the natural waters of the fish, this includes adding suitable plant species if there are any, providing water of the correct hardness and pH taking into account the required water flow as well. Even replicating the lighting provided should be taken into account as some fish originate from murky waters where the lighting is generally subdued whereas other species originate from waterways where the lighting reaches bright levels during the sunlit hours.
Biotopes are not too difficult to replicate to an acceptable degree as long as you research where your fish originate from, which species of fish would normally share there natural waterways, and the general scaping of the area, when you start your research you will quickly realise that there are several areas that have similar conditions making it easier to decide which biotope is the best for the fish that you wish to house in your aquarium and also if your planned aquarium has the space to house these fish and add the biotope still leaving room for the inhabitants, a classic example of this is the Malawi biotope where lots of rocks are added to re-create the rocky slopes, using a smaller aquarium for this biotope is impracticable so for this biotope and certainly for the fish a larger aquarium would need to be used.
Sourcing the resources to create your biotope is part of the fun and nowadays is a lot easier than it used to be a few years ago. There are more aquatic outlets and even general garden centres that can meet your needs with items such as hard-scaping i.e. rocks and gravel or sand, aquatic plants are also imported at a higher rate nowadays giving you more choice as to which plants you can add to give the overall effect that you are searching for. One word of warning about plants, always make sure that they are fully aquatic as some species are grown emersed and when fully submerged in the aquarium will have a limited life and can decay causing water quality issues.
So how do you decide which biotope you wish to create? There are several reasons why you would choose a certain set up, it could be that there are certain species of fish that you wish to keep or it could be the finished look of the biotope that makes your decision and the species of fish added are me to suit the biotope created. Some keepers may prefer a planted set up with soft water species of fish added such as Angelfish or Discus, other keepers may prefer a more open set up housing larger cichlids, even a community set up with a variety of fish can be used with certain biotopes.
So let's take some examples of biotopes that can be created with little effort and will look outstanding if the project is completed successfully.
Lake Malawi set up
One of the most common biotopes to be found has to be the Lake Malawi set up, Lake Malawi is one of the great rift lakes found on the African continent but what separates it from other biotopes. The ideal place to start is with the hard scaping, the slopes of the lake are formed from rocky slopes so this is the best place to start with your biotpope. Most rocks can be used which are available from garden centres and the rocks need to be stacked securely leaving gaps and crevices for the fish to hide in and hopefully breed eventually. Add the rocks before any substrate and they can be placed on egg crate or polystyrene bases to prevent damage to your aquarium. Make sure that the aquarium cabinet is strong enough to take the extra weight involved and make sure that there is no chance of the rocks toppling over, the use of aquatic milliput can help you with this.
Once the rocks are added you should use sand for the substrate. The water needs to be hard, in my case the mains reads a pH of 7.6, not bad for the Malawi cichlids but they do prefer a slightly higher pH, this can be achieved by placing coral sand in the filters, this slowly dissolves into the water increasing the hardness and pH at the same time.
Once the rocks and substrate are added this biotope is complete as regards the overall look so as you can see a very simple biotope to create but not to everyone's taste despite the wonderful colouration that the Malawi species of fish can display once they are settled.
Further details can be found on this link: Lake Malawi Biotope
South American Biotopes
Going to the other end of the spectrum, there are several soft water biotopes that you can create such as a biotope for SA Cichlids including Discus and Angelfish. The South American Blackwater Creek biotope is ideal for these species as they inhabit slow moving waters that are formed in the tributaries of the Amazon River often referred to as Amazonian Basins. Here the water is extremely soft and acidic with some areas hosting a pH that is right down to 6.0 or in some places even lower. Leaf litter often covers the substrate in these areas which helps to lower the pH as the litter decays and this can be replicated in the biotope with the use of almond leaves or you can take the route of adding peat to the filter which will soften the water. This type of biotope is ideal for lovers of planted tank set ups, tall plants at the back of the biotope such as Vallisneria is ideal for the fish to use as hide-aways especially for Angel fish who use this type of plant to hide from would be predators or any other sign of danger.
Bogwood is normally used as the hard décor, this too will help to soften the water and to re-create the subdued lighting, floating plants such as the Amazon Frogbit are added to give a realistic effect. You can purchase commercial products such as Blackwater extract to add tannins to the water, this stains the water to a tea colouration and in my eyes looks great and perfectly natural but the staining is not to everyone's taste so the choice is yours.
To complete the set up adding a shoal of tetras compliments the other species of fish very well, from personal experience I have always added Cardinal tetras to these biotopes and they settle very quickly and provide a lot of movement in the aquarium.
South American Blackwater Creek
If you wish to stay on the South American theme but not so concerned about a planted set up then you could attempt the South American White water River biotope. This involves adding a lot more water flow inside the aquarium and is ideal for many species of Catfish and some of the Tetra species. Some plants can be added but they need to be strong stemmed to deal with the water flow, Amazon Swords are the first group that springs to mind, some of the larger Vallisneria species can also be used to create a background.
South American White Water River
As you can see there are a large variety of biotopes to choose from, biotopes from the same continent can also vary greatly as waterways vary in nature. There is a full breakdown on this site of all the biotopes that you can create, you can find these on the following link: Search the biotopes
The beauty of this page is that it gives you the option of adding your tank size before performing your search rather than just describing the different types of biotope that are out there!
List of all biotopes listed on Aqua-Fish.Net
- Central American Rocky Lake
- Lake Tanganyika
- Lake Malawi
- Northern Australia Rainforest Creek
- New Guinea River
- African River Rapids
- Southeast Asian Mangrove Estuary
- Southern Thailand Forest Creek
- South American Blackwater Creek
- South American Blackwater Stream
- South American Whitewater River
- South American Clearwater Stream
- Northern Madagascar
- West or Central African River
- Indian/Burmese River
- Southern African Swamp
- Southeast Asian Blackwater Pool
- Southeast Asian River