Biotopes Suggestions   

What is a biotope?
"Biotope", which comes from Greek, is a synthetic word derived from "bios" (life) and "topos" (place). Meaning, "The place inhabited by living things". A biotope represents a combination of physico-chemical elements, plants and animals from a specific geographical area, recreated in an aquarium.

To create a real "biotope aquarium", you need a great volume of water, soil, rocks, quality water and specific plants, all for 1 or 2 fish species. In the Amazon for exemple, a biotope would be needed for almost every body of water : at least one endemic species (an organism confined to a particular region) can be found in every river. In most cases, the environment is harder to find than the fish themselves!

For that reason, we will use a different definition of a biotope by creating a stable habitat favorable to the maintenance of each fish or plant species.

To help you create a particular biotope in your aquarium, we have prepared some examples to guide you. We tried to keep as many elements found in the source area with articles available in our store as possible.

16,5 gallons Biotope: Asia
African Killies Biotope
Central America Viviparous Biotope
South America Biotope
African Cichlibs Biotope: Tanganyika Lake
"Takeshi Amano" Style Biotope
New Guinea (Rainbow Fish) Biotope
48 x 18 x 24: Malawi Lake Biotope
72 x 18 x 24: Central America Cichlids Biotope
36 x 18 x 24: Planted Aquarium

16,5 gallons (60 litres) Biotope: Asia

6 Harlequin Rasobra or Espe’s Rasbora
6 Cherry Barbs
2 Kuhli Loaches
4 Amano Shrimps

Plants: (quantity may vary depending on your rocks and wood decorations)
2 Water Wisterias
Choice of 4 Cryptocorynes
6 Vallisneria Spiralis

Rocks and Mopani wood that can be used as a sanctuary by the Kuhli Loaches.

Day 1: aquarium start-up
Install filtration device and plug in water heater for a water temperature of 25°C.
Following day (if temperature is stable at 25°C)
Incorporate plants and decorations.
Introduce the Rasboras and Kuhli Loaches
Add 7 ml of Cycle (to start the biological cycle needed to regulate ammonia and nitrates levels, deadly for your fish)
Week 2
Introduce the Cherry Barbs.
Add 7 ml of Cycle.
Week 4
Introduce the Amano Shrimps.
Add 7 ml of Cycle.

African Killies Biotope, 10 gallons

Killies are small fish (4 to 7 cm) part of the oviparous cyprinodontidae family. Mostly present in Africa, America and Asia, they live in very particular conditions. They can be found in pits and temporary pools with low currents and low natural lighting due to crowns, branches above and organic matters in the water. Hot seasons can dry up their habitat, but the survival of the species is maintained because the eggs can survive several weeks in the mud and continue their evolution in the next rainfall.

Useful Tips:
Killies are good "jumpers". Some species are able to survive several hours out of the water, but a lid is a must if you don’t want to find your fish on the floor!
They reproduce easily in poorly mineralized water (old, rain or de-mineralized water).
3 gallons are enough for 1 male and 2 females.
Water heater is not necessary if the aquarium is in a well heated room (21°C). Killies prefer a water temperature of 20 to 24°C. Most species will have a shorter life span if water temperature is 25°C or more.

Aquarium with glass or plastic lid (5 to 10 gallons, 20 to 38 litres).
Low filltration and lighting. Eventually, air pump filtration and ambient light are preferable, mainly because killies dislike strong light.
Peat filtration to help maintain an acid pH.

Java Moss
Microsorium pteropus
Floating plants, if your aquarium has a lighting system: riccia fluitans, egeria najas, lagorasiphon, lemna, cabomba, etc.)

Small wooden roots
1/8 gravel

Population Example:
1 aphyosemion mirabile couple
1 aphyosemion australe trio (1 male, 2 females)

Central America Viviparous Biotope, 16,5 gallons

Central America Viviparous include fish such as Platies, Mollies, Guppies and Swordtails. They can be found in lakes and rivers of Mexico’s and Guatemala’s coastal regions. In some regions, water is relatively hard and pH is near 7. In others, water flowing on rocky and pedocal soils becomes hard and alkaline, its pH varying between 7,5 and 8,2. Vegetation is dense, providing sanctuary for the fry and food for the adults who like to eat tender plant leaves.

Useful Tips:
Viviparous reproduce easily. 3 females are recommended for every male to avoid male exhaustion due to continuous chasing of the females.
A well planted aquarium is recommended to maintain the fry: they will find sanctuary and food.
Platies love green algae, thus limiting its proliferation.

A 16.5 gallons aquarium (62 litres).
Filtration 2 to 3 times the volume of the aquarium.
A lighting system for the plants.
A water-heater: temperature has to be between 24 and 28°C (75 to 82°F).

Sagittaria subulata
Ludwigia repens
Vallisneria spiralis
Echinodorus osiris
Riccia fluitans

Rocks or cobbles
Coral gravel (to raise pH)

Population Example:
4 Platies
4 Mollies
4 Guppies

South America Viviparous Biotope, 25 gallons

The amber-colored water appears after a certain time.
This picture represents a freshly started aquarium.

The numerous South American rivers are the habitat of a great variety of fish found in pet stores. The stream system is so great that the biotope and variety of fish is different in almost every river. Some South American basins and rivers are known to have "black water": this coloration is due to roots and decomposing vegetation, resulting in a very acid, soft, and tea colored water. Sandy soil makes it easy for the vegetation to root and proliferate.

Useful Tips:
Peat is essential to obtain amber-colored water. It tints the water but also has the advantage of lowering pH. It is also a natural plant fertilizer.

A 25 gallons (95 litres) aquarium.
Filtration 2 to 4 times the volume of the aquarium.
Lighting system for the plants.
A water heater: temperature has to be between 26 and 30°C (78 to 86°F).
Peat in filtration to maintain a pH between 6 and 6,5.

Amazon Sword Plant
Riccia fluitans
Fat Duckweed

Rocks or cobbles
Wooden roots
Natural 1/8 gravel

Population Example:
1 couple or trio of American Dwarf Cichlids or Angelfish
4 corydoras
1 Bushy Nose Pleco ou 2 farlowellas
6 tetras (Rummy Nose, Silver-Tipped, neon, Phantom, etc.)
5 Hatchetfish

African Cichlids Biotope: Tanganyika Lake , 32 gallons

Located in the Great African Lakes region, lake Tanganyika is possibly one of the oldest and deepest lakes (up to 1 470 meters) on the planet. More than 300 species, among which 200 cichlids, can be found from the surface to depths of 200 meters. Coastal regions are sandy, others are rocky. Water is very hard and alkaline and few plants have flourished. The diversity of Cichlids offers a great variety of shapes, colors and sizes.

Useful Tips:
When decorating your aquarium, try to use as many rocks as possible so your fish can make a territory. Since some Cichlids dig soil to make their sanctuary, it is better to place rocks prior to gravel: stable rocks could help you avoid a catastrophe!

A 32 gallons (120 litres) aquarium.
Filtration 4 times the volume of the aquarium.
A standard lighting system.
A water heater: temperature must be between 26 and 28°C (78 to 82°F).
Eventually: Seachem TANGANYIKA BUFFER salt and Seachem CICHLID LAKE SALT to harden water and bring essential minerals.


Rocks or large cobbles (at least 20 pounds).
Fine gravel, sand, or coral gravel.
Eventually : snail shells.

Population Example:
4 Neolamprologus Brichardis
2 Julidochromis
1 Lamprologus Calvus
2 Cyprichromis Leptosomas
1 Synodontis

Waterhome 21, "Takashi Amano" Style Biotope

Takashi Amano is a photographer who immortalises aquarium scenes. His subjects are densely planted aquariums, which he decorates himself. These short-lived scenes, sometimes only the time of a picture, can be maintained in your aquarium if you take as much care of your plants as you do for your fish. Lighting and nutrients for the plants are the most important things for this type of aquarium setup.

Useful Tips:
A substrate soil has the advantage of brigning essential minerals directly to the roots.
Lighting system must be on between 10 and 12 hours a day.
Even though Riccia is a floating plant, it can be maintained on the ground, on wood or a rock with fishing thread and by covering it with a hair net or large mesh plastic screen (the kind used for fruits or vegetables). This will give it the aspect of a shrub. The same applies to Java Moss, that can be attached to a natural support. After a couple of weeks, the plant will have grown roots and the thread can be removed.

Waterhome 21 (double neon).
Hagen Nutrafin CO² Kit.
NPK Fertilizer or Seachem Flourish.
Seachem Flourish Iron supplement.
Seachem Flourite substrate (alone or mixed to gravel).

Riccia fluitans
Java Moss
Dwarf Ambulia or Hygrophila
Rotala ormayaca

Wooden roots
Small rocks

Population Example:
4 Amano, Cherry or Tiger Shrimps
4 Kuhli Loaches
8 Harlequin Rasobras
6 Tanichthys
5 Danios
2 Spotted Borneos

Watherhome 32, New Guinea (Rainbow Fish)

Papua New Guinea is located North of Australia. The region recreated here is a lake formed in an ancient volcano. The shores are rocky and shadowed by dense vegetation. The rest, large sandy areas, is very bright. This region is the Rainbow fish’s natural habitat.

Useful Tips:
Rainbow fish need free space to swim, the front of the aquarium is the best place for it. Place rocks in the form of an arc near the sides and at the bottom and add substrate at the end for more stability. Plants and rocks must be placed in a way that the fish can use them as hiding places.

Waterhome 32 (double neon).


Volcanic rocks
Fine gravel and/or sand

Population Example:
4 Red Rainbows
4 Boeseman Rainbows
4 Neon Dwarf Rainbows

48 x 18 x 24: Malawi Lake

Located in the African Great Lakes region, Lake Malawi possesses a great variety of endemic fish. Two large groups can be found : the haplochromis and the M’Bumas (stone hitter). Their colour, social behaviour, territorial authority, reproduction and upbringing make them very interesting to observe. It is important to take younger fish and introduce them in slightly large numbers to lessen their agressivity.

A 48 x 18 x 24 inches aquarium (120 x 45 x 60 cm, 87 gallons, 329 litres).
2 x 40 watts lighting system.
External filter with additional powerhead recommended.

Many M’bunas are good algae and plant eaters. Thick leaved plants such as Anubias or Microsorium Pteropus could be considered, but may still be eaten. Synthetic plants are a very good alternative.

Gravel or small cobbles

Population Example:
3 Pseudotropheus Elongatus
3 Pseudotropheus Saulosi
2 Labidochromis Caeruleus
2 Melanochromis Auratus or Johanii
3 Labeotropheus Trewavasae
2 Pseudotropheus Zebras

72 x 18 x 24 Central America Cichlids

The maintenance of many species of large American Cichlids requires a vast space both in ground surface and water volume. Cichlids are very territorial fish and every couple or species group needs around 30 gallons of water to thrive. When they reach adult size, they can be predators to smaller species.

A 72 x 18 x 24 inches aquarium (180 x 45 x 60 cm, 130 gallons, 490 litres).
Double or quadruple lighting system
External filter with additional powerhead recommended to create a small current.

Chosing plants for this type of fish can be tricky since large Cichlids are known to dig into the soil and they could detach the plants’ roots and send them to the surface. You must protect your plants by installing rocks and wooden stumps nearby to prevent the fish from unearthing them. Certain plants are found in pots and possesses strong “mother roots” which can easily be attached to rocks. Artificial plants are a good alternative, they can help you avoid inconveniences.

Echinodorus Bleheri
Ludwigia Repens
Bacopa Caroliniana

Since large Cichlids have a tendency to dig into the soil, it is recommended to install the rocks and/or large wooden pieces before the laying of gravel. This helps avoid possible collapses. Also try to avoid piling many rocks on top of each other.

1/4 ou 1/8 gravel.
River rocks or cobbles
Wooden roots

Population Example:
2 Cichlasoma Octofasciatum
3 Cichlasoma Nicaraguense
3 Mesonauta Festivum or 2 Gymnogeophagus Balzanii
2 Heros Severus
2 Bushy Nose Pleco or 1 Hypostomus Plecostomus or 1 Glyptoperichthys Gibbiceps
2 Pimelodus Pictus or 2 Arius Seemani

36 x 18 x 24 Planted Aquarium: Various Regions

Many things are required when installing many plants in an aquarium : The first is to be sensitive to the plants’ needs by using a fertile soil (clay, peat), essential minerals (fertilizer) and light (ideally, 2 to 4 watts per gallon of water). It is then crucial to take care of the plants by trimming them and removing all dead leaves regularly. Finally, the setup. You can inspire yourself with the "Dutch Aquarium" by prioritizing variety, colours, shapes and plant placement. Or the styles of "Takashi Amano" who is a veritable master in the art of aquatic landscaping.

36 x 18 x 24 inches aquarium (90 x 45 x 60 cm, 65 gallons, 246 litres).
Quadruple lighting system.
Carbo plus CO² Kit.
NPK fertilizer or Seachem Flourish.
Seachem Flourish Iron supplement.
Seachem Flourite substrate (alone or mixed to gravel).

Cryptocoryne sp.
Glossostigma Elatinoides or Riccia Fluitans
Echinodorus Tenellus

On wood:
Microsorium pteropus or bolbitis heudelotii

Bottom and sides
Crinum Calamistratum

And / or any other type of plants you may prefer. We only need to make sure the shorter plants are placed up front, the medium sized ones in the middle, and the larger plants in the back and on the sides to create a certain depth and perspective.

Wooden roots

It is possible to attach certain species upon wood or rock. Anubias, Bolbitis and Microsorium can be bound with fishing wire. Riccia Fluitans and Java Moss can be held down with a hairnet and create a kind of vegetable carpet at the bottom of the aquarium.

Population Example:
10 Amano Shrimps (or neocaridina sp. cherry, Tiger, Bee)
8 Otocinclus
2 or 3 groups of 10 to 20 gregarious fish (Tetras, Rasboras, Danios, Tanichthys, Hatchetfish,
Glass Catfish, etc.)