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© 2018 Bernaola, Cosme, Schneider and Stout. Plants face numerous challenges from both aboveground and belowground stressors, and defend themselves against harmful insects and microorganisms in many ways. Because plant responses to biotic stresses are not only local but also systemic, belowground interactions can influence aboveground interactions in both natural and agricultural ecosystems. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) are soilborne organisms that form symbiotic associations with many plant roots and are thought to play a central role in plant nutrition, growth, and fitness. In the present study, we focused on the influence of AMF on rice defense against pests. We inoculated rice plants with AMF in several field and greenhouse experiments to test whether the interaction of AMF with rice roots changes the resistance of rice against two chewing insects, the rice water weevil (Lissorhoptrus oryzophilus Kuschel, RWW) and the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda, FAW), and against infection by sheath blight (Rhizoctonia solani, ShB). Both in field and greenhouse experiments, the performance of insects and the pathogen on rice was enhanced when plants were inoculated with AMF. In the field, inoculating rice plants with AMF resulted in higher numbers of RWW larvae on rice roots. In the greenhouse, more RWW first instars emerged from AMF-colonized rice plants than from non-colonized control plants. Weight gains of FAW larvae were higher on rice plants treated with AMF inoculum. Lesion lengths and susceptibility to ShB infection were higher in rice plants colonized by AMF. Although AMF inoculation enhanced the growth of rice plants, the nutritional analyses of root and shoot tissues indicated no major increases in the concentrations of nutrients in rice plants colonized by AMF. The large effects on rice susceptibility to pests in the absence of large effects on plant nutrition suggest that AMF colonization influences other mechanisms of susceptibility (e.g., defense signaling processes). This study represents the first study conducted in the U.S. in rice showing AMF-induced plant susceptibility to several antagonists that specialize on different plant tissues. Given the widespread occurrence of AMF, our findings will help to provide a different perspective into the causal basis of rice systemic resistance/susceptibility to insects and pathogens.

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Frontiers in Plant Science