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PLoS One


seattle; washington; ISB


The demand for food will outpace productivity of conventional agriculture due to projected growth of the human population, concomitant with shrinkage of arable land, increasing scarcity of freshwater, and a rapidly changing climate. While aquaponics has potential to sustainably supplement food production with minimal environmental impact, there is a need to better characterize the complex interplay between the various components (fish, plant, microbiome) of these systems to optimize scale up and productivity. Here, we investigated how the commonly-implemented practice of continued microbial community transfer from pre-existing systems might promote or impede productivity of aquaponics. Specifically, we monitored plant growth phenotypes, water chemistry, and microbiome composition of rhizospheres, biofilters, and fish feces over 61-days of lettuce (Lactuca sativa var. crispa) growth in nitrogen-limited aquaponic systems inoculated with bacteria that were either commercially sourced or originating from a pre-existing aquaponic system. Lettuce above- and below-ground growth were significantly reduced across replicates treated with a pre-existing aquaponic system inoculum when compared to replicates treated with a commercial inoculum. Reduced productivity was associated with enrichment in specific bacterial genera in plant roots, including Pseudomonas, following inoculum transfer from pre-existing systems. Increased productivity was associated with enrichment of nitrogen-fixing Rahnella in roots of plants treated with the commercial inoculum. Thus, we show that inoculation from a pre-existing system, rather than from a commercial inoculum, is associated with lower yields. Further work will be necessary to test the putative mechanisms involved.


Institute for Systems Biology