Date of this Version
Microbial Ecology 58 (2009), pp. 921–929.
The search for microorganisms that improve soil fertility and enhance plant nutrition has continued to attract attention due to the increasing cost of fertilizers and some of their negative environmental impacts. The objectives of this greenhouse study with tomato were to determine (1) if reduced rates of inorganic fertilizer coupled with microbial inoculants will produce plant growth, yield, and nutrient uptake levels equivalent to those with full rates of the fertilizer and (2) the minimum level to which fertilizer could be reduced when inoculants were used. The microbial inoculants used in the study were a mixture of plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR) strains Bacillus amyloliquefaciens IN937a and Bacillus pumilus T4, a formulated PGPR product, and the arbuscular mycorrhiza fungus (AMF), Glomus intraradices. Results showed that supplementing 75% of the recommended fertilizer rate with inoculants produced plant growth, yield, and nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) uptake that were statistically equivalent to the full fertilizer rate without inoculants. When inoculants were used with rates of fertilizer below 75% of the recommended rate, the beneficial effects were usually not consistent; however, inoculation with the mixture of PGPR and AMF at 70% fertility consistently produced the same yield as the full fertility rate without inoculants. Without inoculants, use of fertilizer rates lower than the recommended resulted in significantly less plant growth, yield, and nutrient uptake or inconsistent impacts. The results suggest that PGPR-based inoculants can be used and should be further evaluated as components of integrated nutrient management strategies.