Fish inhabit nearly every water system on the planet. Within each of these areas, irregular weather patterns and seasonal conditions can cause varying degrees of change in their aquatic habitats. Fish have adapted to thrive within such volatile environments, and replicating the conditions found in the wild can create a more authentic aquarium experience. Recreating such a habitat in your fish tank is a rewarding challenge that will allow you to observe your fish behaving as they would in nature.
The first step to building the right biotope (habitat) is to educate yourself on the particular species of fish that you're keeping as pets. It's important to keep in mind that although fish may coexist amicably within the same stretch of river, they may not enjoy each other's company when confined to a tank; the relationship may even become one of predator and prey. Therefore, it's critical to learn how your fish will interact with oneanother, and to also be aware of their unique feeding patterns, habits and other preferences. After conducting this initial research, you can then choose the decorations, plants and other equipment that will most accurately reflect their natural environment.
Some fish tanks are all-in-one solutions, providing filters, heaters and a built-in lighting system. These pre-built setups are often tricky to modify, so make sure you fully understand the needs of your specific habitat (special lighting, the speed of the filtration flow, etc.) before making your purchase. Underground filtration usually performs poorly in these environments; large rocks can block its flow, and the currents it creates can stress plant life. Instead, try using an external power filter. These are not only easier to maintain and clean, but they also allow greater control over the rate of flow within the tank. Aquarium lights serve specific purposes. Some promote the growth of plants, while others showcase the colors of the fish better. Using spotlights or underwater lighting can create some interesting visual effects and also highlight areas of the tank that would otherwise remain hidden.
The substrate, or foundation of your aquarium is not only used to promote plant growth, but also to provide support for rocks, wood and other pieces of decoration spread throughout the tank. The substrate typically consists of pea gravel (available in coarse, medium and fine varieties). Sand can be problematic, as it can become either compacted or churned into the water by the movements of the fish. Mixing a variety of colors and substrate grades can create a unique atmosphere, but be sure to use at least some fine-grade material, as this is best suited for plant growth.
Some types of rock can alter the chemistry of the water inside your tank and adversely affect the health of your fish. However, granite, sandstone, slate, quartz, basalt, coal and flint are safe to use. If you want to create a natural look, try to ensure that the placement of rocks appears accidental (but stable as well). Some varieties of algae-consuming fish require real wood as a part of their diet (bogwood is a great option). Bamboo, shells, twigs and clay artifacts can also be useful and aesthetically pleasing additions to your aquatic environment.
Planting is the last step to take before introducing your fish into their new habitat. Feel free to use several different plant species to create contrast, provided they are all a reasonable size and shape for the aquarium. In the wild, plants typically grow in clusters. While you should try to follow nature's model as best you can, don't get discouraged if you can't mimic it exactly.
With the right research and preparation, your fish will thrive in their new home and provide you with endless joy and entertainment.