Microsclerotia production of Metarhizium spp. for dual role as plant biostimulant and control of Spodoptera frugiperda through corn seed coating.
The fungal genus Metarhizium comprises entomopathogenic species capable of producing overwintering structures known as microsclerotia. These structures offer many advantages in pest control due to the formation of infective conidia in situ and their persistence in the environment under adverse conditions. In addition, the in vitro production of Metarhizium microsclerotia under controlled liquid fermentation is faster and with greater process control than the production of aerial conidia. However, the potential of Metarhizium microsclerotia to control pests from the orders Lepidoptera and Hemiptera is unexplored. In this study, we examined the ability of Metarhizium spp. microsclerotia to promote corn growth and to provide plant protection against Spodoptera frugiperda (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) and Dalbulus maidis (Hemiptera: Cicadellidae), through seed coating using microsclerotial granules. A screening to find higher microsclerotia producers was conducted by culturing 48 native Brazilian isolates of Metarhizium spp. (Metarhizium anisopliae, Metarhizium robertsii, Metarhizium humberi and Metarhizium sp. indeterminate). The best microsclerotia producers, M. anisopliae ESALQ1814, M. robertsii ESALQ2450 and M. humberi ESALQ1638 improved the leaf area, plant height, root length, and dry weight of plants compared to un-inoculated plants. Significant reduction in S. frugiperda survival (mortality > 55% after 7 days) was observed when larvae were fed on corn plants treated with any of the three Metarhizium species. Conversely, survival of D. maidis adults were unaffected by feeding on fungus-inoculated plants. Our results suggest that microsclerotia of Metarhizium spp. may act as biostimulants and to provide protection against S. frugiperda in corn through seed coating, thus adding an innovative strategy into the integrated management of this major worldwide pest.