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Combined Use of Biocontrol Agents to Manage Plant Diseases in Theory and Practice

September 2011 , Volume 101 , Number  9
Pages  1,024 - 1,031

X.-M. Xu, P. Jeffries, M. Pautasso, and M. J. Jeger

First author: State Key Laboratory of Crop Stress Biology for Arid Areas, College of Plant Protection, Northwest A&F University, Yangling, Shaanxi, 712100, P.R. China, and Plant Pathology, East Malling Research, New Road, East Malling, ME19 6BJ, UK; second author: School of Biosciences, University of Kent, Canterbury CT2 7NJ, U.K.; and third and fourth authors: Division of Biology, Imperial College London, Silwood Park campus, Ascot, SL5 7PY, U.K.

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Accepted for publication 25 April 2011.

Effective use of biological control agents (BCAs) is a potentially important component of sustainable agriculture. Recently, there has been an increasing interest among researchers in using combinations of BCAs to exploit potential synergistic effects among them. The methodology for investigating such synergistic effects was reviewed first and published results were then assessed for available evidence for synergy. Correct formulation of hypotheses based on the theoretical definition of independence (Bliss independence or Loewe additivity) and the subsequent and statistical testing for the independence–synergistic–antagonistic interactions have rarely been carried out thus far in studies on biocontrol of plant diseases. Thus, caution must be taken when interpreting reported “synergistic” effects without assessing the original publications. Recent theoretical modeling work suggested that disease suppression from combined use of two BCAs was, in general, very similar to that achieved by the more efficacious one, indicating no synergistic but more likely antagonistic interactions. Only in 2% of the total 465 published treatments was there evidence for synergistic effects among BCAs. In the majority of the cases, antagonistic interactions among BCAs were indicated. Thus, both theoretical and experimental studies suggest that, in combined use of BCAs, antagonistic interactions among BCAs are more likely to occur than synergistic interactions. Several research strategies, including formulation of synergy hypotheses in relation to biocontrol mechanisms, are outlined to exploit microbial mixtures for uses in biocontrol of plant diseases.

Additional keywords: hypothesis testing.

© 2011 The American Phytopathological Society