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South Centers

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Sustainable Aquaponics

One of the biggest challenges for the commercial aquaponics industry is its profitability, with most businesses producing tilapia. The low-value, high-energy cost, and competition from imports have hindered profitability of the tilapia-based system. This could be addressed through application of new and high-value breeds and species (fish and plant) that use less energy to produce and are more tightly linked in terms of water quality parameters. We are using our monosex and superior fish production technologies to produce and test fast-growing and stress/disease tolerant fish strains for developing novel aquaponic production model systems. Our newly developed breeds grow significantly faster than regular mixed-sex populations and fit different climates and geographic zones (e.g., all-female perch for cold water systems, and all-male bluegill and superior largemouth bass and striped bass strains for warm water systems). These fish breeds are ideal candidates for aquaponic systems in different climates.

Another challenge with properly utilizing the wastewater stream from aquaponics is to derive and understand the complex structure and function of microbial consortia, which is necessary to optimize aquaponic production systems. The important physical “reservoirs” that harbor microbes in aquaponics include: 1) circulating water, 2) water treatment units, 3) gut and external surfaces of the cultivated animal, 4) plant substrate such as rockwool with rhizosphere, and 5) sludge.

Research interests and focuses:

  • Improvement of productivity and profitability of aquaponics by using different combinations of high-value fish species/strains with various plants.
  • Development of novel aquaponic production model systems.
  • Determination of the structure and function of microbe communities through analysis of rhizosphere metagenomes and metatranscriptomes.
  • Modeling the relationships between rhizoobiomes, fish, and plant production.