First and third authors: School of Botany, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria 3053, Australia; second author: Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, Birdwood Avenue, South Yarra, Victoria 3141, Australia
We examined the effects of fresh and composted animal manures on the development of root rot, dieback, and plant death caused by Phytophthora cinnamomi. Fresh chicken manure, or chicken manure composted for 5 weeks before incorporation into the potting mix (25%, vol/vol), significantly reduced pathogen survival and the development of symptoms on Lupinus albus seedlings. Chicken manure composted for 2 weeks was less suppressive. Cow, sheep, and horse manure, whether fresh or composted, did not consistently suppress populations of P. cinnamomi or disease symptoms at the rates used (25%, vol/vol). All composts increased organic matter content, total biological activity, and populations of actinomycetes, fluorescent pseudomonads, and fungi. Only chicken manure stimulated endospore-forming bacteria, a factor that was strongly associated with seedling survival. Fallowing the potting mix for an additional 8 weeks after the first harvest increased the survival of lupin seedlings in a second bioassay, with survival rates in chicken manure compost-amended potting mix exceeding 90%. These data suggest that the ability of composted manure to stimulate sustained biological activity, in particular the activity of endospore-forming bacteria, is the key factor in reducing disease symptoms caused by P. cinnamomi. Supporting these results, the survival of rooted cuttings of Thryptomene calycina was significantly higher in sand-peat potting mix following amendment with commercially available chicken manure (15% vol/vol). However, this protection was reduced if the potting mix was steam pasteurized before amendment, indicating that suppression was due to endogenous as well as introduced microbes. Chicken manure compost incorporated at 5% (vol/vol) or more was strongly phytotoxic to young Banksia spinulosa plants and is not suitable as an amendment for phosphorus-sensitive plants.