The development of effective management strategies to reduce the occurrence of diseases in aquaculture is hampered by the limited knowledge on the microbial ecology of these systems. In this study, the dynamics and dominant community assembly processes in the rearing water of Litopenaeus vannamei larviculture tanks were determined. Additionally, the contribution of peripheral microbiomes, such as those of live and dry feeds, to the rearing water microbiome were quantified. The community assembly in the hatchery rearing water over time was dominated by stochasticity, which explains the observed heterogeneity between replicate cultivations. The community undergoes two shifts that match with the dynamics of the algal abundances in the rearing water. Source tracking analysis revealed that 37% of all bacteria in the hatchery rearing water were introduced either by the live or dry feeds, or during water exchanges. The contribution of the microbiome from the algae was the largest, followed by that of the Artemia, the exchange water and the dry feeds. Our findings provide fundamental knowledge on the assembly processes and dynamics of rearing water microbiomes and illustrate the crucial role of these peripheral microbiomes in maintaining health-promoting rearing water microbiomes. © 2020 Society for Applied Microbiology and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.