Which cichlids would work in this set-up?

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Jeremy Gay helps a young reader choose chichlids for his first tropical community tank.

Q: I am 11 years old and have become obsessed with fishkeeping after being given an annual subscription to PFK for my birthday.

I have been planning my first tropical community tank, which my dad says can be up to 350 l. Which cichlids would be best for a heavily planted community tank and which fish or other creatures would you recommend to help with tank maintenance? I would also like your advice on which ‘character’ fish might also work best in a community set-up, please. 

WILLIAM BROOKES-BAKER, VIA EMAIL 

A: Jeremy says: I was obsessed with fishkeeping when I was your age too, and you must be very excited to be allowed such a large tank! Let’s assume the tank length will be 120cm, and if it is, you could have a pair of Angelfish and they may also breed on the leaves of Amazon sword plants. Apistogramma dwarf cichlids like A. trifasciata are good in planted aquaria, or if you increase the temperature and have soft water, you could have a pair of Rams. Dwarf cichlids have big characters for their size but don’t produce much waste either, and are small enough not to eat freshwater shrimp or tetras. 

Just stick to one pair of either Apistogramma, Pelvicachromis, Laetacara or Mikrogeophagus and if you still crave more cichlids, you could add the Angels too.  

My favourite helpers in planted tanks are Otocinclus catfish, Cherry shrimp, Amano shrimp and Siamese algae eaters as between them they tackle many nuisance algaes and shrimp work tirelessly, processing detritus in all the nooks and crannies.