At first glance it seems a strange question to be asked. We’re concerned with marine aquariums, so what is meant by ‘home’ and ‘habitat’?
It’s pretty obvious that whether the marine aquarium is a reef or fish only system there’s going to be livestock in it. So we need to create a suitable environment and the first requirement for the completed system is salt water (what a surprise!). Then of course there are the lights, particularly for reef systems, and all the rest. ‘All the rest’ refers to protein skimmers, calcium reactors, heaters etc. These are primarily to maintain high quality seawater.
So what has been created, just a box with some rocks, saltwater and lights? It must be more than that. Many people are quite rightly concerned about the wild reef situation, that is, the ongoing deterioration. This deterioration is a reduction in the quality of the environment; it doesn’t actually alter the habitat. The rocks and sand aren’t disappearing. The aquarium environment is important and that, to me anyway, means the quality mainly of the seawater and also, for a reef system, the lighting.
There is more to it than that of course. Aquarists try to make the aquarium as ‘natural’ as possible, for example using live rock for bio-filtration and also the reef or aquascape construction. Another example is the DSB (deep sand bed).
The aquarium is alien and something like a spaceship with any life inside supported to a large extent by technology. The environment has to be of sufficient quality to permit the life to survive.
The Oxford dictionary explains environment as ‘-.surroundings, surrounding objects, circumstances, or influences.’ So it seems we’re on the correct track so far.
So what of ‘habitat’ then? It could be thought that habitat is the same as environment. However, I would suggest that habitat is more closely related to the life in it. Marine fish normally live on a reef. So the aquarist creates this within the aquarium so that the fish can interact with it the same as they do in the wild as far as possible. When I speak of ‘reef’, this could be the live rock captive reef or the rock construction created in a fish only system. There is a specific habitat for the fish and this is the reef. The same for corals, their habitat is also the reef.
Again, the Oxford dictionary explains ‘habitat’ as ‘natural home of plant or animal.’ Again, it seems we’re still on the correct track.
What of ‘home’ then? We humans have homes to which we return to eat, relax and sleep. We generally feel secure within our home. This can also be applied to fish. As said, the habitat is the reef and within that reef is the home. These homes vary of course; they could be a hide-hole or the stinging tentacles of an anemone. The fish we keep need to feel secure, they need a home, and when the aquarist constructs the reef or aquascape they are not only making the aquarium attractive they are providing the homes the fish require. When the rocks are purchased not only should they be suitable to the aquarist’s artistic requirements, more importantly they should be suitable to the fish’s needs. Each fish, subject to its natural tendencies, needs a crevice or a hole in which to hide and feel secure. It follows that there should be sufficient rocks that are suitable to create sufficient holes and crevices. Without this it is likely that aggression could appear, as one fish could attempt to take over the home of another. The need to hide overnight for example is very strong; failure to hide could mean death. Fish instincts don’t change in the aquarium.
The Oxford dictionary supports ‘home’ by advising ‘…dwelling place; one’s residence…’.
So I would suggest that the aquarist is creating a habitat to simulate, as far as possible, the wild reef, and within that habitat will be created homes for the life that dwells on the captive reef. If that life feels secure and unstressed all should be well. The aquarist just needs to maintain a high quality environment.