Subsurface flow wetlands contain gravel or sand substrates through which the wastewater flows vertically or horizontally. The aims of this study were, firstly, to quantify biofilm development associated with different size gravel in sections of a subsurface flow wetland with and without plants, and secondly, to conduct laboratory experiments to examine the role of biofilms in nutrient removal. Techniques to quantify biofilm included: bacterial cell counts, EPS and total protein extraction. Based on comparative gravel sample volume, only EPS was greater on the smaller 5 mm gravel particles. There was no significant difference between biofilm growth in sections with and without plants. Two vertical flow laboratory-scale reactors, one containing fresh wetland gravel, the other containing autoclaved gravel, were constructed to determine nutrient transformations. The autoclaved gravel in the “sterile” reactor rapidly became colonised with biofilm. Both reactors were dosed with two types of influent. Initially the influent contained 7.25 mg/L NO3-N and 0.3 mg/L NH4-N; the biofilm reactor removed most of the ammonium and nitrite but nitrate concentrations were only reduced by 20%. In the “sterile” reactor there was negligible removal of ammonium and nitrite indicating little nitrification, however nitrate was reduced by 72%, possibly due to assimilatory nitrate reduction associated with new biofilm development. When the influent contained 3 mg/L NO3-N and 16 mg/L NH4-N almost 100% removal and transformation of NH4-N occurred in both reactors providing an effluent high in NO3-N. Organic P was reduced but inorganic soluble P increased possibly due to mineralisation.

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