Biotope Aquariums

A biotope aquaria is an aquarium that is set-up to simulate a natural habitat. The fish, plants, water chemistry, and furnishings are similar to those that can be found in a specific natural setting. (more)

Always check compatibility! Some species from a particular habitat are not suitable tankmates. For example, the Peacock Bass will eat small tetras since they are their natural food in the wild.

The biotope aquarium can be adapted by adding species from disparate areas that have similar water requirements. is the effort of Rhett A. Butler, who has taken the photos and written all of the content found on the site. If you find a useful resource I hope that you may consider making a contribution to help support the site. You can also assist by purchasing biotope books using links on this page.

[Photos from various habitats/biotopes]

Freshwater fish species listed by country and ecosystem -- excellent resources for constructing biotope aquaria.


Be sure not to miss links to other biotope resources and sites.

African River Rapids

The Zaire (Congo) River is the second largest river system in terms of volume. This mighty river drains much of West and Central Africa. Along its 2800 miles, the Zaire River moves through many environments including over 200 miles of rapids and cataracts. This rapid region is the inspiration for this biotope aquarium, although similar environments exist in other African rivers.

Congo_Zaire, Agnebi, Bandama River, Benue River, Bia River, Buba River, Casamance River, Cross River, Gambia River, Kariba, Little Scarcies, Niger River, Ogun River, Rokel, Saint John, Saint Paul, Saloum, Senegal River, Volta, Weme, Comoé River, Corubal River, Ebrie, Fatala, Geba, Kainji Lake, Kogon, Kolente, Konkoure, Loffa, Mano, Mao, Mono River, Nipoue, Pra, Sassandra, Sewa, Tano

pH: 7.0-7.5, 6-10 dH, 77-81 F (25-27 C)

The water in this habitat is highly oxygenated due to the turbulence created by the rapids -- therefore the water in the aquarium should be well-aerated. Leave plenty of open swimming area, but use some large rocks. The substrate should be fine gravel or sand. To create water current, place a spray bar from a canister filter, or a strong circulating pump at one end of the aquarium.

Because of the strong water current, the rapids are not a hospitable place for plants.
In the aquarium, plants can be used if they well anchored or protected from the current.
Plants suitable for such an environment include the African Water Fern (Bolbitis heudeloti) and Anubias species.

Eutropiellus, Distichodus, Synodontis, Steatocranus, Teleogramma, Lamprologus

West or Central African River

West and Central Africa are full of rivers. Some of the better known are the Zaire (Congo), Ubanghi, Niger, and the Gambia.
Within each of these river systems are numerous biotopes -- this description will focus on species found in slow-moving sections and side streams.

Congo_Zaire, Agnebi, Bandama River, Benue River, Bia River, Buba River, Casamance River, Cross River, Gambia River, Kariba, Little Scarcies, Niger River, Ogun River, Rokel, Saint John, Saint Paul, Saloum, Senegal River, Volta, Weme, Comoé River, Corubal River, Ebrie, Fatala, Geba, Kainji Lake, Kogon, Kolente, Konkoure, Loffa, Mano, Mao, Mono River, Nipoue, Pra, Sassandra, Sewa, Tano

pH 6.9-7.2, 3-8 dH, 75-81 F (24-27 C)

The tank should be furnished with wood for hiding places, and fine gravel or sand for a substrate.
The lighting should be muted, and the water should have a slight current.

African Water Fern, Anubias, Vallisneria, Eleocharis.

African tetras, Mormyrids, African Knifefish, African Butterfly fish, Synodontis, Hemichromis, Pelvicachromis, Tilapia

This picture was taken in Madagascar but is similar to habitats in West Africa, albeit with cooler temperatures [Mandraka, Madagascar, Mandraka, Madagascar].

Southeast Asian River

Much of Southeast Asia is rainforest and the location for a number of large rivers.
This biotope aquarium simulates a smaller tributary.

Amudar'ya, Chao Praya River, Irrawaddy, Mekong River, Salween

pH 6.0-6.5, 2-8 dH, 79-84 F (26-29 C)

The tank should be thickly planted with plenty of hiding places among wood and plants.
Use fine gravel or sand as a substrate.

Crinum, Ceratopteris, Hygrophila, Cryptocoryne, Nymphaea

Loaches, Barbs, Danios, Cyprind sharks (Red-tail, Bala, etc.), Pangasius catfish [suitable only for very large tanks], small Asian catfish, Knifefish

White Water River: Borneo White Water River, Borneo, Borneo, Borneo, Borneo, Borneo,
Whitewater creek: Borneo creek

Southeast Asian Blackwater Pool

Creeks and streams originating from deep in the rainforest are often blackwater.
With decaying plant vegetation and few, if any, mineral sources, the water is acidic and very soft.
This environment provides a home to many species of plants and fish.

pH 5.5-6.5, 0-4 dH, 81-84 F (27-29 C)

The tank should be densely planted with a fine gravel or clay substrate.
Use wood to create hiding places and use peat filtration.
There should be little surface current.

Cryptocoryne, Nymphaea, Eleocharis

Gouramis, Bettas, Rasboras, Loaches, Glass Catfish, Cyprind sharks, Flying Fox

Blackwater creek: Borneo creek, Borneo creek
Clearwater forest pool Borneo

Southeast Asian Mangrove Estuary

Mangrove swamps are found through the world where freshwater rivers come in contact with the ocean.
The result is a tidal region with varying salinity and water conditions.
The tides affect some of the types of fish present in the estuary, although fish termed "brackish water species" remain no matter the condition.

pH 7.2-8.0, 10-20 dH, 75-82 F (24-28 C), 1.006-1.015 specific gravity.

The tank should have a coral sand substrate.
Use wood and roots to recreate the mangrove roots of the swamp.
Use an efficient filtering system, because brackish water fish are heavy eaters, yet sensitive to water pollutants.
One popular brackish-water set-up is to leave the tank only half full with water. A sandy beach is constructed and potted mangrove seedlings grow above the water surface. Such a set-up allows an aquariast to observe unusual behavior from brackish species such as Mudskippers and Archerfish.

Few plants can tolerate brackish conditions besides the mangrove.
Java Fern appears to be one of the only aquarium plants suitable for a brackish water tank.
Mangrove seedling can be kept in pots as long as the bulk of the plant is out of the water.
The Mangrove will require frequent pruning to keep it small enough for the aquarium.

Mudskippers, Archerfish, Scats, Monos, Tiger fish, Puffers, Gobies, Glassfish, Halfbeaks, Arius catfish, and Celebes Rainbowfish.

Similar habitat in Australia (Mangrove estuary)

Indian/Burmese River

Despite India's tremendous population, there are still habitats for tropical fish species.
Neighboring Burma (Myanmar) shares many of India's interesting species.

Brahmaputra River, Cavally River, Ganges, Indus, Krishna River, Chilka Lake, Chittar River, Godavari, Irrawaddy

pH: 7.0-7.7, 6-12 dH, 70-75 F (21-24 C)

The tank should have bright lighting, fine gravel or sand, and heavy planting.
Rocks can be used for shelter and hiding places.

Rotala, Ceratopteris, Aponogeton, Eleocharis, Blyxa

Danios, Rosy Barbs, Colisa, Spiny eels, Climbing perches, Badis, Loaches, Gyrinocheilus, Chaca and Glass catfish.

South American Clearwater Stream

Clear or blue water streams are transparent rivers that drain the Guyana highlands and the Brazil rocky highlands.
These rivers are fast-flowing at times, but slow-moving at others.
The Rio Xingu and Rio Tocantins are typical clear water rivers.


pH 6.9-7.3, 5-12 dH, 75-82 F (24-28 C)

The tank should have good filtration which keeps the water clear and creates a moderate current.
The lighting should be bright and plant life should be rich.
A substrate of fine gravel is suggested, as are a few pieces of wood.
Aerate the tank well.

Sword plants, Ceratophyllum, Cabomba, Lemma, Limnobium, Vallisneria

Loricarids, Corydoras, Uaru, Mesonauta, Hyphessobrycon.
These waters are preyed by the Peacock Bass.


Other Biotope Resources



Review questions - Part I

  • Where are rainforests located?
  • How much land area rainforests do cover?
  • What percentage of Earth is covered by rainforests?
  • How many rainforest biogeographical realms are there?
  • What biogeographical realm has the most rainforest?
  • True or false - less than 5% of Earth's land is covered with rainforests.

Review questions - Part II

  • Rainforests are generally broken into how many biogeographical realms?
  • The largest expanse of rainforest is located on what continent?
  • Most of the rainforest in Africa is found in what basin?
  • How is African rainforest generally different from rainforests of Asia and South America?
  • What is the world's second largest island?
  • Does Australia naturally have monkeys?
  • What is the Wallace Line?
  • How did the Ice Ages affect islands and forests in southeast Asia?
  • True or False—The Amazon River Basin is roughly the size of the forty-eight contiguous United States.
  • Is the Amazon River the largest river, in terms of volume, in the world?
  • Is the Amazon River the longest river in the world?
  • What continent loses the most area of forest each year?

Review questions: - Part III

  • What is the difference between primary and secondary forest?
  • True or false—Cloud forest is found in mountainous areas.
  • True or false—flooding is common in the Amazon rainforest.
  • Why are mangrove forests important?
  • Why are mangrove forests being destroyed?



Citations - Part I

  • D.W. Orr Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect, Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1994.
  • David Quammen Wild Thoughts from Wild Places (New York: Scribner, 1998).
  • M. McKloskey in "Note on the Fragmentation of Primary Rainforest," Ambio 22 (4), June: 250-51 1993 using analysis of satellite images.
  • Deforestation rates and tropical forest cover are taken from the latest State of the World's Forests 2011 (SOFO) published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Citations - Part II

  • Australia's rainforest coverage during the most recent ice ages is discussed in M. Hopkins and P. Reddell (Australia's CSIRO 1998) and van Osterzee (Where Worlds Collide, New York: Cornell University Press. 1997). T.F. Flannery (The Future Eaters, New York: Braziller 1995) also discusses vegetation shifts wrought by climate change and human influences.
  • Van Osterzee (Where Worlds Collide, New York: Cornell University Press, 1997), Quammen (The Song of the Dodo, New York: Scribner 1996.), and Browne (The Secular Ark: Studies in the History of Biogeography, New Haven: Yale University Press 1983) provide an easily understandable review of the Wallace line biogeography including the current distribution of flora and fauna in the region and the impact of changing sea levels. Rubeli (Tropical Rainforest in South-East Asia, Kuala Lumpur: Tropical Press Sdn. Bhd., 1986.) discusses the link between flora of New Zealand, the Himalayas, and Borneo.
  • The history of the Amazon River Basin is covered engagingly in Goulding (Amazon-The Flooded Forest, New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. 1990).

Citations - Part III

  • The mechanism responsible for the worldwide decline in amphibian populations is debated by Lips ("Decline of a montane amphibian fauna," Conservation Biology Vol. 12 No. 1 (106-117), Feb. 1998.), Sessions et. al. (Sessions, S.K. Franssen, R.A., Horner, V.L., "Morphological Clues from Multilegged Frogs: Are Retinoids to Blame?" Science 284 (5415) 1999), Tangley ("The Silence of the Frogs," U.S. World and News Report 8/3/98), and Tuxill ("The Latest News on the Missing Frogs," World Watch May/June 1998). For alternative commentary from an unlikely source see M. Fumento ("With Frog Scare Debunked, It Isn't Easy Being Green," The Wall Street Journal 5/12/99).
  • The "Primary Cover versus Total Forest Cover" table is taken from Myers, N., "Tropical forests: present status and future outlook," Climactic Change 19 (3-32), 1991.
  • Pearce correlates forest clearing in West Africa to falling precipitation in the African interior in "Lost Forests Leave West Africa Dry," The New Scientist 1-18-97.
  • The Amazonian igapò is the subject of Goulding's Amazon-The Flooded Forest, New York: Sterling Publishing Co.,Inc. 1990.
  • Brookfield, H., Potter, L., and Byron, Y. provide a short description of Indonesian peat forests in In Place of the Forest: Environmental and Socio-economic Transformation in Borneo and the Eastern Malay Peninsula (New York: United Nations University Press, 1995), while T. Nishizawa and J. I. Uitto, eds. (The Fragile Tropics of Latin America: Sustainable Management of Changing Environments, New York: United Nations University Press, 1995) review Latin American forest types.
  • Threats to mangrove forest from shrimp aquaculture and oil activities are examined in Moffat, D. and Lindén, O., "Perception and Reality: Assessing Priorities for Sustainable Development in the Niger River Delta," Ambio Vol. 24 No. 7-8 (527-538), Dec. 1995; and Boyd, C.E. and Clay, J.W., "Shrimp Aquaculture and the Environment" Scientific American. Vol. 278, No. 6 June 1998, respectively.