Generally the cichlids from the apistogramma group are more fragile and harder to maintain, and breed, for a longer period of time. In my opinion apistogramma's are not real beginner species. They are more likely to get diseases if not all the environmental variables are properly taken care of. They need soft and acidic water with a low PH value, a PH of 5.5 to 6 is preferable. They hardly eat dry foods, best is to feed them live foods or frozen food, like bloodworms, brine shrimp and mosquito larvae. Apistogramma species can be kept in a large tropical community aquarium, but be sure the other fish are not too small, they can defend their territory very fiercely, and can be quite aggressive when they are breeding. In my opinion it is best to keep the apistogramma's on their own, in a larger aquarium you could combine two apistogramma variants together, maybe supplemented with a small group of other fish, like some livebearers or betta's. They also can be kept together with discus or angel fish. I always have a harem of apisto's in my discus tanks, just to populate the lower areas of the aquarium and I really like these small dwarfs with a big attitude.
The cichlids from the Pelvicachromis group are much more tolerant when it comes to water values and feeding, I do consider these cichlids a good beginner species. They are hardened, beautiful colored and eat almost anything. The Pelvicachromis pulcher is maybe one of the most easy to breed cichlids as well. If you have an adult couple they will reproduce, in a community tank, a special species tank or in a pond, some people like to breed them in their pond during summer. Actually some of the biggest and nicest colored Pelvicachromis pulcher were pond bred and raised. The only thing to keep in mind with these cichlids is that they are capable of redesigning your aquarium, they can make huge holes and are real little bulldozers. So if you have, or want to setup, a subtile planted tank, don't add a couple of Pelvicachromis to your aquarium.
The last dwarf cichlid I want to mention is the Microgeophagus ramirezi, or Ram cichlid. Their behavior and care are roughly the same as the apistogramma's but they are more tolerant when it comes to water values, and in my experience they are easier to keep in good condition. Unlike the apistos they have to be kept as a couple, not a harem but that's the only breeding experience I have. I have tried several couples, have a couple in a breeding tank right now, but I have never even had a clutch of eggs. I know from other breeders that they are kind of hard to get going, but if they do they never stop.
About the Author
Auke Veenstra is keeping and breeding tropical aquarium fish, and dendrobatea, for years. He shares his experiences on the TinkerFish website.