Tank Decor -
Finally, decoration is extremely important in the African Cichlid tank. Species which are mouthbrooders tend to have less of a need for permanent territory, whereas substrate spawners tend to defend a more or less permanent home. In any case, all Cichlid tanks should be moderately to heavily decorated with rock. Preferable types are slate, tufa, lava, "pagoda", petrified wood, "lace rock", and most other rocks offered for sale at your aquarium store. AVOID the large chunks of glass sold as DECO or GLASS ROCK. Always be sure to purchase your rock from an aquarium dealer. It will cost more, but it is almost guaranteeably safe and clean.
Besides rock, we also usually have gravel in display tanks, and possibly plants and driftwood. If you plan to use a substrate, make sure it is a natural color. Dark and light gravels both have their disadvantages, some fish will look better on one or the other. Sand (not silica, crushed coral sand is recommended) is an option if you are not planning on using an undergravel filter, and this is a good substrate. Many African Cichlids prefer sand, such as Aulonocara, many of the Shell-Dwelling Neolamprologus, Xenotilapia and Enantiopus among others. Plants can be used sparingly, although they usually take up too much swimming space, especially in the case of mouthbrooders. Fake plants are usually the way to go, although there are a few suitable live plants, such as Java Fern, Vallisneria sp., and Anubias sp. Sometimes, your Cichlids may dig live plants up, so always plant them in a pot. Also, some Cichlids will eat your plants too, especially if underfed. Unless prepared to possibly lose live plants, go with their fake plastic alternatives. Although it looks nice, driftwood is not usually recommended, as it can lower the pH of your aquarium and stain your water yellow with tanic acid.