Inoculation with mycorrhizal fungi on the growth and tolerance to water deficit of coffee plants

ABSTRACT Water stress can be alleviated in plants inoculated with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi compared to that experienced by those without mycorrhizae. The objective of this study was to evaluate the growth of coffee plants colonized by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi under different soil moisture conditions. Seeds of the coffee cultivar Catuaí Vermelho IAC 99 and three fungal inoculants (Rhizophagus clarus, Claroideoglomus etunicatum and Dentiscutata heterogama) were used in this study. The soil moisture contents tested were 40, 60, 80, and 100% of field capacity. Seedlings in the matchstick stage were inoculated with mycorrhizae, and then later planted in plastic pots when they developed four to five pairs of definitive leaves. Both the extent of mycorrhizal colonization and increases in leaf area were related to soil moisture content in a quadratic manner for plants inoculated with all three mycorhizzal fungi (R. clarus, C. etunicatum, and D. heterogama), as well as for non-inoculated ones. The highest value of colonization of coffee by mycorrhizae was 39%, which occurred in association with R. clarus at 71% of field capacity. The leaf areas of plants inoculated with fungi increased more than those of non-inoculated plants, regardless of the type of inoculum used. Plants inoculated with D. heterogama at 100% field capacity produced 21% more root dry mass than non-inoculated plants did. Inoculation with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and higher soil moisture increased the growth of coffee seedlings. The plants inoculated with R. clarus, C. etunicatum, and D. heterogama were tolerant to moderate water deficits (i.e. lower soil water contents). Mycorrhizal colonization was highest for plants in soils with moisture levels close to 75% of field capacity.