Recirculation aquaculture systems (RAS) depend on nitrifying biofilters for the maintenance of water quality, increased biosecurity and environmental sustainability. To satisfy these requirements a packed bed bioreactor (PBBR) activated with indigenous nitrifying bacterial consortia has been developed and commercialized for operation under different salinities for instant nitrification in shrimp and prawn hatchery systems. In the present study the nitrification efficiency of the bioreactor was tested in a laboratory level recirculating aquaculture system for the rearing of Penaeus monodon for a period of two months under higher feeding rates and no water exchange. Rapid setting up of nitrification was observed during the operation, as the volumetric total ammonia nitrogen removal rates (VTR) increased with total ammonia nitrogen (TAN) production in the system. The average Volumetric TAN Removal Rates (VTR) at the feeding rate of 160 g/day from 54–60th days of culture was 0.1533 ± 0.0045 kg TAN/m3/day. The regression between VTR and TAN explained 86% variability in VTR (P < 0.001). The laboratory level RAS demonstrated here showed high performance both in terms of shrimp biomass yield and nitrification and environmental quality maintenance. Fluorescent in-situ Hybridization analysis of the reactor biofilm ensured the presence of autotrophic nitrifier groups such as Nitrosococcus mobilis lineage, Nitrobacter spp and phylum Nitrospira, the constituent members present in the original consortia used for activating the reactors. This showed the stability of the consortia on long term operation.

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