Effects of commercial microbial biostimulants on soil and root microbial communities and sugarcane yield

  • Shelby BergEmail author
  • Paul G. Dennis
  • Chanyarat Paungfoo-Lonhienne
  • Jay Anderson
  • Nicole Robinson
  • Richard Brackin
  • Adam Royle
  • Lawrence DiBella
  • Susanne Schmidt
Original Paper


Ameliorating biological attributes of agricultural soils is desirable, and one avenue is introducing beneficial microbes via commercial biostimulant products. Although gaining popularity with farmers, scientific evaluation of such products in field-grown crops is often lacking. We tested two microbial products, Soil-Life™ and Nutri-Life Platform®, in a commercial sugarcane crop by profiling bacterial and fungal communities in soil and roots using high throughput phylogenetic marker gene sequencing. The products, one predominantly consisting of Lactobacillus and the other of Trichoderma, were applied as a mixture as per manufacturers’ instructions. Additives included in the formulations were not listed, and plots that did not receive the product mixture were the controls. The compositions of bacterial communities of soil and sugarcane roots, sampled 2, 5 and 25 weeks after application, were unaffected by the products. Soil fungal communities were also unaffected, but sugarcane roots had a greater relative abundance of three unidentified taxa in genera Marasmius, Fusarium and Talaromyces in the treated plots. Sugarcane yield was similar across all treatments that included a 25% lower nitrogen fertiliser rate. Further research must examine if the altered root fungal community is a consistent feature of the tested products, and if it conveys benefits. We conclude that putative biostimulants can be evaluated by analysing the composition of microbial communities. DNA profiling should be complemented by cost-benefit analysis to build a public information base documenting the effects of microbial biostimulants. Such knowledge will assist manufacturers in product development and farmers in making judicious decisions on product selection, to ensure that the anticipated benefits of microbial biostimulants are realised for broad acre cropping.


Microbial biostimulants Crop probiotics Beneficial microbes Root microbial communities Soil microbial communities Sugarcane 



We thank Terrain Natural Resource Management for funding this project, as well as Melissa Royle and Minka Ibanez for sample collection. Shelby Berg gratefully acknowledges financial support from Sugar Research Australia (PhD top-up stipend and operating funds) and the Australian Government Research Training Program.

Data availability statement

The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Author contributions

CP-L and SS designed the study in collaboration with AR and LD. AR was responsible for field sampling and CP-L performed the DNA extractions. CP-L and SB performed bioinformatics analyses, PGD and SB performed statistical analyses and all authors contributed to writing the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shelby Berg
    • 1
    Email author
  • Paul G. Dennis
    • 2
  • Chanyarat Paungfoo-Lonhienne
    • 1
    • 3
  • Jay Anderson
    • 1
  • Nicole Robinson
    • 1
  • Richard Brackin
    • 1
  • Adam Royle
    • 4
  • Lawrence DiBella
    • 4
  • Susanne Schmidt
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Agriculture and Food SciencesThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.School of Earth and Environmental SciencesThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  3. 3.Sustainable Organic Solutions Pty. Ltd.BrisbaneAustralia
  4. 4.Herbert Cane Productivity Services Ltd.InghamAustralia

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