Endophytic fungi protect tomato and nightshade plants against Tuta absoluta (Lepidoptera: Gelechiidae) through a hidden friendship and cryptic battle.
Endophytic fungi live within plant tissues without causing any harm to the host, promote its growth, and induce systemic resistance against pests and diseases. To mitigate the challenging concealed feeding behavior of immature stages of Tuta absoluta in both tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) and nightshade (Solanum scabrum) host plants, 15 fungal isolates were assessed for their endophytic and insecticidal properties. Twelve isolates were endophytic to both host plants with varied colonization rates. Host plants endophytically-colonized by Trichoderma asperellum M2RT4, Beauveria bassiana ICIPE 706 and Hypocrea lixii F3ST1 outperformed all the other isolates in reducing significantly the number of eggs laid, mines developed, pupae formed and adults emerged. Furthermore, the survival of exposed adults and F1 progeny was significantly reduced by Trichoderma sp. F2L41 and B. bassiana isolates ICIPE 35(4) and ICIPE 35(15) compared to other isolates. The results indicate that T. asperellum M2RT4, B. bassiana ICIPE 706 and H. lixii F3ST1 have high potential to be developed as endophytic-fungal-based biopesticide for the management of T. absoluta.