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Frontiers in Plant Science




Frontiers Media


Herbivore suppression is mediated by both plant defenses and predators. In turn, plant defenses are impacted by soil fertility and interactions with soil bacteria. Measuring the relative importance of nutritional and microbial drivers of herbivore resistance has proven problematic, in part because it is difficult to manipulate soil-bacterial community composition. Here, we exploit variation in soil fertility and microbial biodiversity across 20 farms to untangle suppression of aphids (Brevicoryne brassicae) through bottom–up and top–down channels. We planted Brassica oleracea plants in soil from each farm, manipulated single and dual infestations of aphids alone or with caterpillars (Pieris rapae), and exposed aphids to parasitoid wasps (Diaeretiella rapae) in the open field. We then used multi-model inference to identify the strongest soil-based predictors of herbivore growth and parasitism. We found that densities of Bacillus spp., a genus known to include plant-growth-promoting rhizobacteria, negatively correlated with aphid suppression by specialist parasitoids. Aphid parasitism also was disrupted on plants that had caterpillar damage, compared to plants attacked only by aphids. Relative abundance of Pseudomonas spp. bacteria correlated with higher aphid growth, although this appeared to be a direct effect, as aphid parasitism was not associated with this group of bacteria. Non-pathogenic soil bacteria are often shown to deliver benefits to plants, improving plant nutrition and the deployment of anti-herbivore defenses. However, our results suggest that these plant growth-promoting bacteria may also indirectly weaken top–down aphid suppression by parasitoids and directly improve aphid performance. Against a background of varying soil fertility, microbial biodiversity, competing herbivores, and natural enemies, we found that effects of non-pathogenic soil microbes on aphid growth outweighed those of nutritional factors. Therefore, predictions about the strength of plant defenses along resource gradients must be expanded to include microbial associates.


Copyright © 2018 Blubaugh, Carpenter-Boggs, Reganold, Schaeffer and Snyder. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.