Fertilization with beneficial microorganisms decreases tomato defenses against insect pests
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The adverse effects of chemical fertilizers on agricultural fields and the environment are compelling society to move toward more sustainable farming techniques. “Effective microorganisms” is a beneficial microbial mixture that has been developed to improve soil quality and crop yield while simultaneously dramatically reducing organic chemical application. Additional indirect benefits of beneficial microorganisms application may include increased plant resistance to herbivore attack, though this has never been tested till now. Tomato plants were grown in controlled greenhouse conditions in a full-factorial design with beneficial microorganisms inoculation and commercial chemical fertilizer application as main factors. We measured plant yield and growth parameters, as well as resistance against the generalist pest Spodoptera littoralis moth larval attack. Additionally, we measured plant defensive chemistry to underpin resistance mechanisms. Overall, we found that, comparable to chemical fertilizer, beneficial microorganisms increased plant growth fruit production by 35 and 61 %, respectively. Contrary to expectations, plants inoculated with beneficial microorganisms sustained 25 % higher insect survival and larvae were in average 41 % heavier than on unfertilized plants. We explain these results by showing that beneficial microorganism-inoculated plants were impaired in the induction of the toxic glycoalkaloid molecule tomatine and the defense-related phytohormone jasmonic acid after herbivore attack. For the first time, we therefore show that biofertilizer application might endure unintended, pest-mediated negative effects, and we thus suggest that biofertilizer companies should incorporate protection attributes in their studies prior to commercialization.