Maize mycorrhizas decrease the susceptibility of the foliar insect herbivore Spodoptera frugiperda to its homologous nucleopolyhedrovirus.
BACKGROUND: The multiple nucleopolyhedrovirus of Spodoptera frugiperda (SfMNPV) plays an important role in regulating its natural host and has high potential for use as a bioinsecticide. However, information about how agricultural practices such as fertilization and plant biotic interactions affect the biocontrol efficacy of SfMNPV is limited. In this study, we examined how multitrophic maize-mycorrhiza-insect herbivore interactions affect the biocontrol efficacy of SfMNPV against S. frugiperda under full and reduced mineral nitrogen fertilization. Two fully factorial greenhouse pot experiments with three factors were performed: (i) arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) (with and without AMF), (ii) nitrogen fertilization (50% and 100% N), and (iii) insect (with and without of S. frugiperda). The biocontrol efficacy of SfMNPV against S. frugiperda was examined using detached leaves under controlled environmental conditions. RESULTS: Associating maize with AMF resulted in multitrophic cascade effects. Plants with AMF showed suppression of plant growth and increased leaf N and P content, which coincided with increased foliar herbivory and larval biomass that finally reduced the susceptibility of S. frugiperda to SfMNPV. Reduced levels of N fertilization mitigated these observed cascade effects on the biocontrol efficacy of SfMNPV with maize mycorrhizas. CONCLUSION: Our results show that AMF can modulate S. frugiperda-SfMNPV interactions via plant-mediated phenotypic responses to the mycorrhizal association and are most likely linked with increased leaf food quality for S. frugiperda. These results call for further studies to address the mode of interaction and possible implications for pest management in maize agroecosystems.