18. The influence of vermicompost on plant growth and pest incidence

Tags: plant growth, vermicomposts, organic wastes, organic matter, organic amendments, The Ohio State University, Edwards CA, microbial activity, plant growth media, aphids, Fusarium wilt of tomato, animal wastes, cytokinins, earthworms, field applications, insect pests, humic substances, Plant Disease, Beeinflussung des Ertrags von Weidelgras, Casenave de Sanfilippo E, increase, soils and soil fertility, pest populations, Plant Diseases, Clive A. Edwards1, insect pest, pest suppression, Edwards, Soil ZOology for Sustain Development, laboratory experiments, faeces, Dell, growth media, vegetative growth, Ohio State University, earthworm populations, earthworm activity, Environmental Management C.A. Edwards, Plant Cell, Earthworr Environmental and Waste Management, Proc Brighton Pest Control Coni, PI Brighton Crop Protection Conf-Pests, plant pathogen, Plant growth regulator, organic amendment, Brighton Pest Control Conf
Content: 18. The influence of vermicomposts on Plant growth and pest incidence .
Clive A. Edwards1 ,Jorge Domнnguez2 and Norman Q..Arancon1 1 Department ofEl)tomology, The Ohio State University, 103 Jennings Hall, 1735 Neil Avenue, Columbus, OH 43201, USA 2 Departamento de Ecoloxia e Bioloxia Animal, Univerdisade de Vigo, Campus As Lagoas, Vigo, E-36200 Spain
. D uring the las twenty years, considerable progress has been made in developing methods of breaking down organic wastes, including animal wastes, crop residues, urban and industrial organic refuse__a11d sewage biosolids;· which has been termed vermicomposting. Vennicomposts have a fine particulate structure, ow C:N
ratio, with the organic matter oxidized and stabilized and converted into humic·· materials.
They contain nutrients transformed into plant-available forms and are extremely
microbially-active. Additions of low rates of substitution of vermicomposts into
greenhouse soil4ess plant growth media or low application rates to field crops have
consistently increased plant germination, growth, flowering, and fruiting, independent of
nutrient availability'. This can be at least partially, attributed to the production, by the
greatly increased microbial p0pulations, of plant growth regulators, including plant
hormones, such as indole-acetic acid, gibberellins and cytokinins and also humic acids,
which simulate the effects of hormones.
Vermicomposts can suppress the incidence of plant pathogens such as Pythium, Rhizoctonia and Verticillium significantly, by general or specific suppression mechanisms. Vermicomposts applied to soils have considerable influence on the trophic structure of nematqde populations, significantly suppressing plant parasitic species populations. Greenhouse experiments have shown that low substitutions of vermieemposts into soil-less plant growth media can decrease the amounts of feeding and
-son Zoologyfor Sustainable Development in the 21st Century S.H. Shakir Hanna and W.Z.A. Mikhail, eds, Cairo 2004
influence of vermicomposts on pla'lt growth and pest incidence
damage by sucking pests such as aphids and mealy bugs and chewing pests such as caterpillars.
All of these various inputs of vermicomposts into plant growth produce signi~cant and. economic inc~eases in yields ?f omamental, vegetable, and frtlit crops. -',
Verm,compostlOg has considerable potential for the large-scale conversion of
environmentally undesirable organic wastes into value-added materials with great
potential in horticulture and agriculture.
Keywords: vermicompots, plant growth, pest incidence, microbial activity, organic wastes
INTRODU eTlON It is well-established that earthworms have beneficial effects on soils and soil fertility (Edwards 1985). These effects include: biological and chemical effects on soil organic matter degradation (Edwards and Bohlen 1996, and Edwards 1998), release of nutrients (Gilot 1997), and on soil structure (Kahsnetz 1992), soil turnover (Edwards " 1998), water holding capacity and drainage, and aggregate formation and turnover (Edwards and Bohlen 1996). All of these activities contribute to soil fertility and increase plant growth and crop yields. There is an extremely large body ofscientific evidence, that has been accumulated over the last fifty years, showing that the addition of earthworms to s'oils with low natural populations can have very significant effects on the growth of plants. Most of the relevant literature haSoeen summarized by Lee (1985), Edwards and Bohlen (1996), Edwards (r998) and Edwards e/ al. (1995). Many experiments have conclusively shown that addition of earthworms can increase the growth of cereals in temperate countries (e.g., van Rhee 1965, Atlavinytc 1974, Edwards and Lofty 1976, 1980, Atlavinyte and Vanagas 1982, Stephens and Davoren 1997). More recently, it has been shown through a range of field experiments, that inoculation of earthworms into soils in tropical farming systems can also have dramatic effects on plant growth and yields (Lavelle 1992, Spain et al. 1992, Lavelle and Spain 2001). In grasslands, especially those with no native earthworms, the effects of earthworm inoculations has been even more dramatic, so that yields of grasslands in New Zealand have greatly increased, consistently, and even sometimes doubled as a result of adding earthworrr.s (Stockdill and Cossens 1966, Stockdill 1982, Syers and Springett 1983). Although it has been shown that earthworms utilize microorganisms as their main source of nutrition (Edwards and Fletcher 1988), there are usually greatly increased numbers of bacteria, actinomycetes and fungi in freshly-deposited earthworm casts than in the surrounding soil (Edwards and Bohlen 1996). Such increases may be due to enhancement of microbial populations, occurring during passage through the earthworm's intestine; either because the food selected by the earthworm forms a richer
Edwards et al. 399 substrate for microbial activity or because fragmentation of organic matter in the earthworm's gizzard increases the available surface area for microbial activity (Dkhar · and Mishra 1986, and Tiwari and- Mishra 1993). There is also evidence of earthworms increasing the overall metabqlic activity of the microbial biomass in soils (Wolters and Jorgensen 1992, and Schindler-Wessels et al. 1996). There is considerable research evidence that earthworms can stimulate the microbial decomposition of organic matter significantly, both during the passage through the earthwonn gut and in their casts, for some time after the casts are deposited (Scheu 1987, and Daniel and Anderson 1992). The microbial activity in the casts eventually falls and rates of organic matter breakdown decrease as the cast material becomes increasingly humified and protected. EFFECTS OF VERMICOMPOSTS ON PLANT GROWTH In recent years, there has been considerable progress in the utilization of earthworms to breakdown organic wastes including: animal wastes, crop residues, urban and industrial organic refuse and sewage biosolids (Edwards and Neuhauser 1988, and Edwards 1998). The earthwonns fragment the organic waste substrate, greatly stimulate microbial activity and increase rates of mineralization, rapidly converting the organic wastes into humus-like substances, with a much finer particulate structure than traditional thennophilically-produced composts. These processes have been summarized in detail by Edwards and Neuhauser (1988), Edwards (1998) and Dominguez and Edwards (2004 see previous Chapter). The effects ofnutrient transformations produced by earthwonns in soils and i n vermicomposts are well-d?cumented and contribute significantly to plant growth and crop yields (Edwards and Bohlen 1996, Edwards 1998,. Lavelle and Spain 2001). It is clear that rapid breakdown of organic wastes by earthwonns, interacting with microorganisms, produces vennicomposts with a much greater microbial activity and biodiversity, than the parent organic wastes; with increases in microbial activity sometimes by.-several orders of magnitude. It seems likely that this greatly enhanced microbial activity may not only increase the rate of nutrient transformations into forms readily available for plants, but also have effects on plant growth through increased enzymatic activity and disease suppression (Edwards 1998). There is an increasing evidence from work in the Soil Ecology Laboratory at The Ohio State University that the addition ofvermicomposts into soil-less bedding plant media can increase the germination, growth, flowering and fruiting, of a wide range of greenhouse vegetables and ornamentals, such as: tomatoes (Figure I) (Atiyeh et al 1999, and Atiyeh et al, 2000 a), vegetable seedlings (Atiyeh el al. 2000 b), marigolds (Figure 2) (Atiyeh et al. 2000 e, and 200 I), and other vegetables and ornamentals (Atiyeh et al. as 2000 c, d, and e) and that amendments of field crops with low application rates of vcrmicomposts can increase the growth of vegetables such peppers (Figure 3)
Influence oJvermicomposts on plant growth and pest incidence
(Arancon et al. 2003 f), fruits such as strawberries (Figure 4) (Arancon et al. 2003 a), and grapes and ornamentals such as petunias. All of these increases in both greenhouse and field were independent of nutrient supplies which were equalized between treatments. In . all the greenh0u~e and field experiments at The Ohio State University, increases in growth in response to verr.dcomposts were in response to small application rates, were signifi.;ant and consistent, and were mostly independent of nutrient supply.
Figure 1. Marketable yields oftomatoes grown In the greenhouse in a range of mixtures ofvermicompost and a commercial medium Metro-Mix 360 (with all necessary nutrlents supplied).
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In recent years, a very substantial body of. evidence has accumulated demonstrating that microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, yeasts, actinomycetes and algae, are capable of producing plant hormones and plant-growth regulating substances (PGRs) such as auxins, gibberellins, cytokinins, ethylene and abscisic acid, in appreciable quantities (Arshad and Frankenberger 1993, and Frankenberger and Arshad 1995). Many of the microorganisms that are common in the rhizospheres of plants can produce such plant growth-regulating substances, for instance Barea et al. (1976) reported that, of 50 bacterial isolates obtained from the rhizosphere of various plants, 86 % could produce auxins, 58 % gibberellins and 90 % kinetin-like substances. There have been many studies on the production of plant growth-regulating substances by mixed microbial populations in soil, but there are relatively few investigations into their availability to plants, and persistence, fate in soils, or documentation on their effects on plant growth (Arshad and Frankenberger 1993, and Frankenberger and Arshad 1995). Some workers have shown that PGRs can be taken up by plants from soil in sufficient amounts to influence plant growth. For instance, it was shown that auxins produced by Azospirillum brasilense could affect the growth of graminaceous plants (Barbieri et al. 1988, and Kucey 1993). There is increasing evidence that microbially-produced gibberellins can influence plant growth and development (Mahm:>ud et al. 1984, and Arshad and
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Edwards et al. 401 Frankenberger 1993). Increased vigour of seedlings has been attributed to microbial production of cytokinins by Arthrobacter and Bacillus spp. in soils (Inbal and Feldman 1982, and Jagnow 1987). Figure 2. Total number of flower huds (mean±standard error) produce~ by marigold plants in a standard commercial potting mediwn (Metro-Mix 360) substituted with different concentrations of pig manure vermicompost. Columns followed by * are significantly different from Metro-Mix 360 (0% vermicompost) atP~0.05. 22 J-B 20 III 1B 'tl 16 ..M 14 ~ 12 iJ 10 '" Ј-0 B~~~~~~~~~~·~~~Lr~~m,~Lr~ o 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 eo 90 100 Vennicompost Concentration (%) 100 -90 80 10 60 50 40 30 20 10 00 Percentage :MM360 in Medium (%) It has been suggested that earthworms may be important agents that influence the enhanced production of plant growth-regulating substances through promoting greatly increased microbial activity in organic matter and soils (Nielson 1965, Springett and Syers 1979, Grappelli et al. 1987, Tomati et al. 1983,1987, 1988, and 1990, Tomati and Galli 1995, Nardi et al. 1988, Graff and Makeschin 1980, Del1'Agnola and Nardi 1987, Edwards and Burrows 1988, Edwards 1998, Krishnamoorthy and Vajranabiah 1986). Since earthworms increase microbial activity so dramatically, sometimes by orders of magnitude, it is not unreasonable to conclude that earthworm activity might increase the rates of production ofPGRs by soil microorganisms significantly.
Influence ofvermicomposts on plant growth and pest incidence
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Figure 3. Shoot biomass,
leaf areas and number of
nmners of strawberries
grown in soils treated with
food waste and paper waste
inorganic fertilizer control,
200 days after transplanting
in Fremont, OH.
Columns followed by same letter(s) are not significantly different at P::; 0.05.
Edwards e/ al. 403 . The first suggestion that earthworms might produce plant growth regulators was by Gavrilov (1963). This was supported by the first report of the presence of plant growth-regulating substances in the tissues of Aporrectodea caliginosa,. Lumbricus rubel/lis and Eisenia fetida by Nielson (1965), who isolated indole substances from earthworms and reported increases in the growth of peas due to extracts from the earthworms. He also extracted a substance that stimulated plant growth from Aporrectodea longa, LumbriclIs terrestris, and Dend,robaena ntbidus, but his experiments did not exclude the possibility of PGRs that he found came from microorganisms that were living in the earthworm guts and tissues. Graff and Makeschin (1980) tested the effects of substances that had been produced by Lumbricus terrestris, Allolobophora caliginosa and Eiseniafetida on the dry matter production of ryegrass. They added liquid eluates from pots containing earthworms to' pots containing no earthworms, and concluded that plant growth-influencing substances were released into the soil by all three species, but did not speculate further on the nature of these substances. Tomati et al. (1983, 1987, 1988, and 1990), Grappelli et al. (1987) and Tomati and Galli (1995), tested vermicomposts produced from organic wastes, by the action of earthworms, as media' for growing ornamental plants and mushrooms. They concluded that plant growth increases that occurred in all of their experiments were much too large to be explained purely on the basis of the nutrient content of the vermicomposts. Moreover, plant growth changes included: stimulation of rooting, dwarfing, time of flowering, and lengthening of internodes. They compared the growth of Petunia. Begonia, and Coleus after adding' aqueous' extracts from vermicompost, with- adding auxins, gibberellins, and cytokinins, to soil, and concluded that they found excellent evidence of hormonal effects, produced by earthworm activity, which was supported by the high levels of cytokinins and auxins they found in the vermicomposts. Edwar,d~ and Burrows (1988) reported that the growth of 28 ornamentals and vegetables, in plant growth media produced by the processing of organic wastes by the earthworm E. fetida. was much greater than that in commercially-available plant growth media, and was too great to be explained solely through influence of earthworm activity on plant nutrient quality and availability. They reported that the growth of ornamentals was influenced significantly even when the earthworm-processed organic wastes were diluted 20: 1 with other suitable materials and the nutrient content lYas balanced to that of inorganic fertilizers. Moreover, the growth patterns of the plants, which included changed leaf development, stem and root elongation, and flowering by biennial ornamental plants in the first season of growth, indicated the likelihood of some biological factor, oth~r than nutrients, such as the production of plant growth-influencing substances (PGIs), e.g., humic acids or free enzymes, being responsible. Scott (1988), reported that the growth of the hardy ornamentals, Chamaecyparis lawsonian. Elaeagnus pzmgen,s,' Ctpressocyparis leylandi. Pyracantha spp. Cotoneaster conspiclls and
Influence ofvermicomposts on plant growth and pest incidence
Viburnum bodnantense, increased significantly after addition of low levels of earthworm_
worked organic wastes to the growth media even when the nutrients in the two media
were balanced.
Figure 4. Yield and
yield attributes of
peppers grown ill
soils treated with
food waste, paper
waste cattle manure
traditional composts,
fertilizer in Piketon,
followed by same
letter(s) are not
different atP::s 0.05.
Edwards et al. 405
Krishnamoorthy and Vajranabhaiah (1986) showed, in Laboratory experiments
involving large earthworm populations, that seven species of earthworms could very
dramatically promote the production of cytokinins and auxins in organic wastes. They
also demonstrated a significant positive correlations (r = 0.97) between earthworm
populations and the amounts of cytokinins and auxins present in ten different field soils,
and concluded that earthworm activity was linked strongly with PGR production. They
reported that auxins and cytokinins produced through earthworm activity could persist in
soils for up to 10 weeks although they degraded in a few days if exposed to sunlight.
During the last decade, the biological activities of humic substances have been extensively investigated (McCarthy et al. 1990, and Hayes and Wilson 1997). Studies of the effects of humic substances on plant growth, under conditions of adequate mineral nutrition, have consistently resulted in positive plant Growth effects (Chen and Aviad 1990, and Hayes and Wilson 1997). For instance, humic substances increased the dry matter yields of com and oat seedlings (Lee and Bartlett 1976, and Albuzio et al. 1994); numbers and lengths of tobacco roots (Mylonas and Mccants 1980); dry weights of shoots, roots, and nodules of soybean, peanut, and clover plants (Tan and Tantiwiramanond 1983), vegetative growth of chicory plants (Valdrighi et al. 1996); and induced shoot and root formation in tropical crops grown in tissue culture (Goenadi and Sudharama 1995).
Vermicomposts originating from animal manure, food wastes, sewage sludges or paper-mill sludges have been reported to contain high levels of huinic substances (Atiyeh et al. 2002, Canellas et al. 2000, Arancon e/ al.. 2003 c). Recently, the biological activities of humic substances derived from earthworm faeces have been investigated (Dell' Agnola and Nardi 1987, Nardi et af. 1988, Muscolo et aJ. 1993). For instance, Dell' Agnola and Nardi (I 987) reported hormone-like effects of depolycondensed humic fractions obtained from the faeces of the earthworms, AlloJobophora rasea and Allolobophora caliginosa. Treating carrot cells with humic substances obtained from the faeces of the e~rthworm A. rosea increased cell growth and induced morphological changes simil~r to those induced by auxins (Muscolo et aJ. 1996). From work at The Ohio State University it seems that vermicomposts, which consist of an amalgamate of humified earthworm faeces and organic matter, can stimulate plant growth beyond that produced by mineral nutrients, because of the direct or indirect effects of the humic substances present in the vermicomposts, acting as PGRs, and this has been confirmed (Atiyeh et 01.2000 a, b, c, d, and e, Arancon et al. 2003 c).
In work at The Ohio State University, treating plants with humic substances, increased growth was correlated with increasing concentrations of humic substances, but usually with a decrease in growth at higher concentrations of the humic materials (Figure --'). This stimulatory effect of humic substances at low concentrations has been explained by various theQries, the most convincing of which hypothesizes a "direct" action on the plants which is hormonal in nature, together with an "indirect action" on the metabolism
Influence ojvermicomposts on plan~ growth and pest incidence
of soil microorganisms, the dynamics of soil nutrients, and soil pHysical conditions (Cacco and Dell Angola 1984, Nardi et al. 1988, Albuzio et al. 1989, Casenave de Sanfilippo et at. 1990, Chen and Aviad 1990, Muscolo et al. 1993, 1996, and 1999). Laboratory and greenhouse research at OSU, has provided new evidence that eartr.worm activity on organic matter to produce vermicomposts, can lead to th~ production of water-extractable and base-extractable plant growth influencing substances (PGIs) in vermicomposts, in quantities that could significantly influence plant germination, growth, flowering and yields of greenhouse crops. These data suggest that there are biological and biochemical changes during the production of vermicomposts, including production ofPGRs, such as plant hormones and humic acids. For instance, in bioassays, leaf development of radish seedlings grown in a full Hoagland nutrient solution, was compared with that in complete nutrient solutions amended with 2 % or 5% aqueous extracts of vermicomposts. The extracts increased leaf area significantly, suggesting a non-nutrient mediated plant growth response. In aqueous extracts of vermicomposted cattle waste, separated fractions by high performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) and analyzed then by Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS). Indole-3-acetic acid (IAA) was conclusively and smaller amounts of giberellins and cytokinins. In laboratory/greenhouse bioassays at The Ohio State University it was demonstrated that auxins were present in vermicomposts in significant amounts using a Coleus bioassay. It was also shown that gibberellins were present in relatively small quantities, using a dwarf 5 maize bioassay (Sembdner et al. 1976), and that cytokinins . . were present in small amounts, using a cucumber bioassay (Hahn and Bopp 1968). Chemical analyses for indole acetic acid (IAA) in vermicomposts using HPLC and GC-MS confirmed these findings. Tomato seedlings responded positively to IAA and gibberellic acid 3 (GA)), and negatively to a single application of kinetin, but positively to a second application of this PGR. These experiments demonstrated clearly that tomato plants could take up PGRs, including those produced in vermicomposts, from soil through their roots in quantities sufficient to influence their growth. Humic acids were extracted from vermicomposts and a range of doses added to tomato seedlings that were provided with all needed nutrients. Greenhouse experimer.ts with some humate doses produced very significant increases in plant growth in greenhouse experiment (Figure 5). The humic acids were extracted from pig manurebased vermicomposts, using the classic alkali/acid fractionation procedure (Valdrighi et al. 1996). The dry yield of humates was 4 gm kg-I of vermicomposts. The incorporation of 150,200,250 and 500 mglkg of humates from pig manure vermicompost into MetroMix 360 increased the heights and the leaf areas of tomato seedlings grown in these mixtures significantly, compared to those grown in the Metro-Mix 360 controls with no lumates added. The greatest plant heights Edwards et af.
mg/kg humates, whereas greatest leaf areas occurred in potting mixtures containing 500 mg/kg humates. The dry weights of shoots of tomato seedlings grown in mixtures containing 200, 250, and 500 kg/mg humates were 47.0, 37.4, and 43.4 %, respectively, greater than those of seedlings grown in Metro-Mix 360 controls. The dry weights of roots of tomato seedlings, grown in mixtures containing 250, 500, and 1000 mg/kg of humates from pig manure-vermicompost, were 77.5, 79.3, and 72.1 %, respectively, more than those of seedlings grown in the controls with no humates. These effects of humates on growth all occurred when the plants were supplied with all their required nutrients (Atiyeh et af. 2002). In later experiments, humates extracted from cattle, food and paper waste vermicomposts produced similar growth increases on peppers and strawberries (Arancon et af. 2003 f).
Figure 5. Effects of bumic acid extracts from pig manure vermicompost, applied toa soil-less potting medium at different concentrations, on tomato leaf area (with all needed nutrients supplied).
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H.mteO:rm1rai m(rTlkj / .We hypothesized (Atiyeh et af., 2002, and Arancon et af. 2003 c) that plant
growth hormones may be very transient in soils since they are highy water-soluble and
rapidly degrade in sunlight. However, if they become adsorbed on to humic acids, which
are extremely stable, they would persist much longer in soils and continue to influence
plant growth. This theory was confirmed by Canellas et al. (2000), who demonstrated
that there were exchangeable auxin groups in the macrostructure of humic acids extracted
from vermicomposts. These workers also showed that these complexes influence lateral
root development of maize. This research provides clues as to why vermicomposts
influence plant germination, growth, flowering, and yields so dramatically over and
above their content of readily-available nutrients, and make positive contributions to soil
structure and fertility.
Influence of vermicomposts on plant growth and pest incidence
Thus there is increasing evidence of the various ways in which components of lermicomposts can increase the germination, growth, flowering, and fruiting of a wide 'ange of crops as discussed in this Chapter. This also has implications for organic farming lecause if eart~worms can promote the activity and effects of PGRs in organic wastes, it nay also be true that in SOilS to which organic matter is added, the production ofPGRs by nicroorganisms may be illcreased by soil-inhabiting earthworm activity. .
The suppression of plant pathogens by organic matter and thermophilic omposts (Hoitink and Grebus 1997) and plant parasitic nematodes by various forms of 'rganic matter is well-documented (Akhtar and Malik 2000). There are many nsubstantiated reports in the popular organic literature of the control of pests by organic latter. However, it is only recently that the potential of vermicomposts in the uppression of pests has begun to be explored. It seems very probable that based on lcreased research, that vermicomposts will be commonly used for pest management.
Suppression of plant diseases by vermicomposts
There is an extremely extensive literature on the suppression of plant diseases by rganic amendments (Lazarovits et al. 2000, Fikre et al. 2001, Ramamoorthy et al. 2000, ettiol et al. 1997, and 2000, Somasekhara et al. 2000, Rajan and Sarma 2000, Blok et al. :)00, Shiau et al. 1999, Arafa and Mohamed 1999, Gouda"r et af. 1998, Narayanaswamy 'al. 1998, Raguchander et af. 1998, Hooda and Srivastava 1998, Velandia et al. 1998, ixon et af. 1998, Ehteshamul et af. 1998, Lima et af. 19~n, Panneerselvam and lravanamuthu 1996, Ara et af. 1996, Karthikeyan and Karunanithi 1996, Sanudo and lotina 1995, Dutta and Hegde 1995, Diyora and Khandar 1995, Kulkarni et af. 1995, am et al. 1988, Kannaiyan 1987), and traditional thermophilic composts (Huelsman and jwards 1998, Goldstein 1998, laworska et af. 1998, Hoitink el al. 1986, and 1997). arious mechanisms have been suggested for this suppression, but most of these are lsed on some fom1 of microbial antagonism. Specific diseases that have been controlled I traditional thermophilic composts include among others: Fusarium (Liping et af. 2001, annangara et al. 2000, Cotxarrera et af. 200 I, Harender et af. 1997), Gaeumannomyces 'aminis, and Plasmidiophora brassicae (Pitt et af. 1998) Phylophthora (Hoitink and uter 1986, and Pitt et al. 1998), and Rhizoctonia (Kuter et af. 1983).
Traditionat-'composting is a thermophilic process that selectively promotes icrobial activity, whereas vermicomposting is a non-thermophilic method that greatly omotes increased activity by a wide range and diversity of microorganisms. We have nsiderable evidence from our research at The Ohio State University of much greater icrO'bial activity and biodiversity in vcrmicomposts than in traditional composts. Our
Edwards et al. 409 aboratory and field research work provides evidence that vermicomposts may have an ~ven greater potential for disease suppression than traditional thermophilic composts. For instance, general observational evidence of decreases in plant disease incidence and of pathogen suppression were recorded in earlier studies involving 28 species of crop plants grown in vermicomposts (Edwards and Burrows 1988, and Scott 1988). Nakamura (1996) reported suppression of PlasrnodiophQra brassicae, Phytophthora nicotianae (tomato late blight), and Fusarium /ycopersici (tomato fusarium wilt) by vermicomposts. Szczech (1999, and 2002) reported suppression of Fusarium iycopersici, as well as Phytophthora nicotianae on tomatoes, by vermicomposts. Rodriguez et al. (2000) demonstrated general suppression of fungal diseases of gerbera plants such as Rhizoc/onia so/ani, Phytophthora drechsleri and Flisarium oxysponlm by the incorporation of vermicompost into the 'growth media. Orlikowski (1999) described sporulation reduction of the pathogen Phytophthora cryptogea after treatment with vermicomposts. Studies by Nakasone et al. (1999) showed that aqueous extracts of vermicomposts inhibited the mycelial growth of Botrytis cinerea, Sclerotinia. sc/erotionlm, Corticium rolfsii, Rhizoctonia so/ani and Fusarium oxysporum. In recent research in the Soil Ecology Laboratory in greenhouse experiments at The Ohio State University there was significant suppression of Pythium and Rhizoctonia (Figure 6 a), resulting from substituting low rates (10-30 %) of vermicompost into horticultural bedding mixtures in the greenhouse (Chaoui et al. 2002). Suppression of diseases of field crops was achieved with low application rates of vermicomposts. The diseases suppressed in the field were Verticillium wilt on strawberries (Figure 6 b) and Phomopsis and powdery mildew (Sphaerothecafulginae) ~_grapes._ Two mechanisms of pathogen suppression have been described, one of which is based on microbial competition, antibiosis, hyperparasitism, and possibly systemic plant resistance (Hoiti)1k and Grebus 1997). In this mechanism, propagules of pathogens such as Pythium and Phytophthora are suppressed by a mechanism that has been termed 'general suppression' (Chen et af. 1987) with many microorganisms acting as biocontrol agents. This mechanism has also been suggested as effectively suppressing human pathogens, such as coliform bacteria and other faecal pathogens (Hoitink and Grebus 1997). The second method of suppression of diseases such as Rhizoc/onia, with only a narrow range of microorganisms facilitating the suppression, is termed 'specific suppression' (Hoitink et al. 1997). It seems likely that these two mechanisms of suppression also apply to vermicomposts, but probably 'general suppression' is much more common for vermicomposts since vermicomposting greatly increases the biodiversity of microorganisms, whether pathogenic or beneficial.
nfluence ojvermicomposts on plant growth and pest incidence
6. a) RhilixJonia symptom suppression in radish. Seedling> planted in a sou.le<;s n (MM360) substituted with wrmicompost, inoculated with 1:4000 dilution Pythium. is sterilized MM360. The disease SCaE is rated l(symptoroEss) to S (severe). b) Wun wilt symptpm suppression in str.mberry field crops anended with topil:al lions of wrmicompost (S and 10 Uha)
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Suppression of insect and mite attacks by vermicomposts
There are reports in the literature demonstrating that field applications of various
f organic matter and traditional thermophilic composts can suppress attacks by
ests, such as aphids and scale insects (Cullinan and Pimentel 1986, Costello and
1995, Yardim and Edwards 1998, Huelsman et ·al. 2000, Eigenbrode and Pimentel ~or instance, organic fertilizers suppressed com insect pests (Biradar ef al. 1998),
aphids (Morales ef ai. 2001) and European ccirnborer (Phelan et af. 1996),
insect pests (Rao 2002), brinjal shoot and fruit borer (Sudhakar et al. 1998), and ecls (Morales ef al. 2001). Surekha (2000) reported that the treatment of soils
I, ;
'micomposts or farm yard manure reduced the incidence of aphids, jassids and
ers, as pests..
More recently, there have been scattered reports of the suppression of insect pest m plants by vermicompost amendments. Biradar ef al. (1998) reported a clear ::m between the amounts of vermicomposts in the medium in which Letlcaena hala was grown and the degree of infestation by the psyllid Heferopsylla Rao et al. (2000) reported decreased incidence of the leaf miner Aproaerema ~ on groundnuts, in response to field treatments of soils with vermicomposts. If. (200 I) reported lower overall pest densities of the ground nut leaf miner ema modicella) in plots treated with vermicomposts. Ramesh (2000) described j attacks by sucking pests in response to vermicomposts. Rao (2002) reported ,e decreases in attacks by the jassid (Empoasca vern) and the aphid (Aphis 'a), ,md changed predator populations, in response to field applications of
Edwards et af.
vermicomposts, George Hahn (California Venniculture), in an article in the Los Angeles Times in 2000, claimed that vermicomposts repelled a number of insect pests. Such reports, although not numerous, provide an adequate basis to justify further research into this subject, since ·it would be very attractive financially, if it can be proved that vermicomposts can significantly and consistently suppress arthropod pest populations. Recent greenhouse research in the Soil Ecology Laboratory at OSU has demonstrated significant suppression of populations of aphids (Myzus persicae), mealy bugs (Pseudococcus) and caterpillars (Pieris brassicae) by substituting low rates of vennicomposts into a soil-less plant growth medium (Metro-Mix 360) for tomatoes, peppers, and cabbages (Figure 7). The possible mechanisms of arthropod pest suppression by organic matter, composts and vennicomposts is still speCUlative, but changes in the nutrient characteristics and balances of plants in response to vennicomposts compared with inorganic fertilizers and possibly the phenol contents of plant leaves, have been suggested mechanisms, since organic nitrogen is released more slowly from organic amendments such as vermicomposts than from inorganic fertilizers. This would make plants less acceptable to arthropod attacks. (Patriquin et af. 1995)
Figure 7. a) Mealy bug Infestations on tomatoes substituted with different amounts of vermlcomposts Into a soilless medium (MM 360) b) Attacks by cabbage white caterpillars on cabbages grown In MM f60 and MM 360 SUbstituted by 20% and 40"10 vermicompost
Nu ,mhoS 7 per 6 P/;"5 4 3 2 1 0
III 1m '[81 Il ;; 10 ~ 3 0(; XI
'.rcCf'lbgt v.nrWcanpost
,~tri>\lO ... roMrallO
, (a)
,tte«t~ "'''o-Mix 39)
Influence ojvermicompos/s on plant growth and pest incidence (c) Suppression of plant parasitic nematode attacks by vermicomposts There is a very extensive scientific literature, demonstrating that additions of organic matter to soils, may sometimes decrease populations of plant parasitic ~ematodes appreciably (Addabdo 19;)5, Akhtar and Malik 2000, Akhtar :WOO). Akhtar (2000) reviewed 212 scientific papers which discussed effects of various organic amendments on plant-parasitic nematode populations. There are also a number of reports that traditional :h<.:rfllophilic composts can suppress plant parasitic nematode populations (McSorley and Gallaher 1995, Gutpa and Kumar 1997, Sipes et al. 1999, Miller 2001). Studies carried out by Zambolim e/ af. (1996) demonstrated the effectiveness of coffee compost in the control of the nematode Meloidogyne javanica on tomatoes. Chen e/ af. (2000) demonstrated decreases in egg production of the nematode M. hapla when brewery compost was added to soil. However, such results have usually resulted from large field application rates of composts which may not be economical for commercial nematode management. There have been a few reports in the scientific literature of vermicomposts suppressing populations of plant parasitic nematodes. Swathi et af. (1998) demonstrated that 1.0 kg m-2 ofvermicompost suppressed attacks of Mefoidogyne incognita in tobacco plants. Morra et af. (1998) reported partial control of Mefoidogyne incognita by vermicompost amendments tosoils in a tomato-zucchini courgette rotation. Ribeiro et al. e1998) reported that vermicomposts decreased the numbers of galls and egg masses of Meloidogynejavanica. Arancon et al. (2002, and 2003 e) reported significant suppression :>f plant parasitic nematodes by field applications of vermicomposts, ranging from 2 to 8 Edwards et al. 413
interactions, abiotic factors provided by vennicomposts might also reduce populations of plant parasitic nematodes. For example, vennicomposts may contain compounds that might affect ~he survival of nematodes. For instance, nematodes can be killed due to the release of toxic substances such as hydrogen sulphide, ammonia, and nitrates', duri"ng vermicomposting (Rodriguez-Kabana 1986). All of the recent experiments at The Ohio State University have consistently and significantly decreased populations of plant parasitic nematodes on a range of crops. This is useful evidence that vermicomposts have potential in plant parasitic nematode management programmes.
Figure 8. Numbers (Means ± SE) of plant parasitic nematodes in inorganic fertilizer- treated ( -l. vermicompost-treated (0). compost-treated(m) and unfertilized (s ) soils planted with tomatoes (A). peppers (8), strawberries (C), and grapes (D).
bI~l~...L-Lr1~r--Tl-,-,:-,-rb ~I. [) ~ 14.~.loet
C.--.J ..... 0 .........-_...r:.:aJ.o.uJ...
.... ...,... - 0" -.. Do/Il.
-........ -.....- .... ._- .... .~-
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