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Piriformospora indica and Sebacina vermifera increase growth performance at the expense of herbivore resistance in Nicotiana attenuata


A Sebacinales species was recovered from a clone library made from a pooled rhizosphere sample of Nicotiana attenuata plants from 14 native populations. Axenic cultures of the related species, Piriformospora indica and Sebacina vermifera, were used to examine their effects on plant performance. Inoculation of N. attenuata seeds with either fungus species stimulated seed germination and increased growth and stalk elongation. S. vermifera inoculated plants flowered earlier, produced more flowers and matured more seed capsules than did non-inoculated plants. Jasmonate treatment during rosette-stage growth, which slows growth and elicits herbivore resistance traits, erased differences in vegetative, but not reproductive performance resulting from S. vermifera inoculation. Total nitrogen and phosphorous contents did not differ between inoculated and control plants, suggesting that the performance benefits of fungal inoculation did not result from improvements in nutritional status. Since the expression of trypsin proteinase inhibitors (TPI), defensive proteins which confer resistance to attack from Manduca sexta larvae, incur significant growth and fitness costs for the plant, we examined the effect of S. vermifera inoculation on herbivore resistance and TPI activity. After 10 days of feeding on S. vermifera-inoculated plants, larval mass was 46% higher and TPI activity was 48% lower than that on non-inoculated plants. These results suggest that Sebacina spp. may interfere with defense signaling and allow plants to increase growth rates at the expense of herbivore resistance mediated by TPIs.

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We thank the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft for financial support of this study and Prof. A. Varma and Dr. P. Franken for providing us with the two fungal clones.

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Correspondence to Ian T. Baldwin.

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Communicated by Christian Koerner

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Barazani, O., Benderoth, M., Groten, K. et al. Piriformospora indica and Sebacina vermifera increase growth performance at the expense of herbivore resistance in Nicotiana attenuata. Oecologia 146, 234–243 (2005).

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  • Herbivory
  • Manduca sexta
  • Nicotiana attenuata
  • Piriformospora indica
  • Sebacina vermifera