, Volume 112, Issue 4, pp 534-542

A fungal root symbiont modifies plant resistance to an insect herbivore

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Vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizal (VAM) fungi are common root-colonizing symbionts that affect nutrient uptake by plants and can alter plant susceptibility to herbivores. I conducted a factorial experiment to test the hypotheses that colonization by VAM fungi (1) improves soybean (Glycine max) tolerance to grazing by folivorous Mexican bean beetle (Epilachna varivestis), and (2) indirectly affects herbivores by increasing host resistance. Soybean seedlings were inoculated with the VAM fungus Glomus etunicatum or VAM-free filtrate and fertilized with high-[P] or low-[P] fertilizer. After plants had grown for 7 weeks first-instar beetle larvae were placed on bagged leaves. Growth of soybean was little affected by grazing larvae, and no effects of treatments on tolerance of soybeans to herbivores were evident. Colonization by VAM fungus doubled the size of phosphorus-stressed plants but these plants were still half the size of plants given adequate phosphorus. High-[P] fertilizer increased levels of phosphorus and soluble carbohydrates, and decreased levels of soluble proteins in leaves of grazed plants. Colonization of grazed plants by VAM fungus had no significant effect on plant soluble carbohydrates, but increased concentration of phosphorus and decreased levels of proteins in phosphorus-stressed plants to concentrations similar to those of plants given adequate phosphorus. Mexican bean beetle mass at pupation, pupation rate, and survival to eclosion were greatest for beetles reared on phosphorus-stressed, VAM-colonized plants, refuting the hypothesis that VAM colonization improves host plant resistance. VAM colonization indirectly affected performance of Mexician bean beetle larvae by improving growth and nutrition of the host plant.

Received: 28 February 1997 / Accepted: 23 June 1997