Agron. Sustain. Dev.
Volume 28, Number 1, January-March 2008
Page(s) 33 - 46
Published online 09 January 2008
Agron. Sustain. Dev. 28 (2008) 33-46
DOI: 10.1051/agro:2007051

Role of nutrients in controlling plant diseases in sustainable agriculture. A review

Christos Dordas

Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Faculty of Agriculture, Laboratory of Agronomy, University Campus, 54124 Thessaloniki, Greece

(Accepted 16 October 2007; published online 9 January 2008)

Abstract - In recent years the importance of sustainable agriculture has risen to become one of the most important issues in agriculture. In addition, plant diseases continue to play a major limiting role in agricultural production. The control of plant diseases using classical pesticides raises serious concerns about food safety, environmental quality and pesticide resistance, which have dictated the need for alternative pest management techniques. In particular, nutrients could affect the disease tolerance or resistance of plants to pathogens. However, there are contradictory reports about the effect of nutrients on plant diseases and many factors that influence this response are not well understood. This review article summarizes the most recent information regarding the effect of nutrients, such as N, K, P, Mn, Zn, B, Cl and Si, on disease resistance and tolerance and their use in sustainable agriculture. There is a difference in the response of obligate parasites to N supply, as when there is a high N level there is an increase in severity of the infection. In contrast, in facultative parasites at high N supply there is a decrease in the severity of the infection. K decreases the susceptibility of host plants up to the optimal level for growth and beyond this point there is no further increase in resistance. In contrast to K, the role of P in resistance is variable and seemingly inconsistent. Among the micronutrients, Mn can control a number of diseases as Mn has an important role in lignin biosynthesis, phenol biosynthesis, photosynthesis and several other functions. Zn was found to have a number of different effects as in some cases it decreased, in others increased, and in others had no effect on plant susceptibility to disease. B was found to reduce the severity of many diseases because of the function that B has on cell wall structure, plant membranes and plant metabolism. Cl application can enhance host plants' resistance to disease. Si has been shown to control a number of diseases and it is believed that Si creates a physical barrier which can restrict fungal hyphae penetration, or it may induce accumulation of antifungal compounds. Integrative plant nutrition is an essential component in sustainable agriculture, because in most cases it is more cost-effective and also environmentally friendly to control plant disease with the adequate amount of nutrients and with no pesticides. Nutrients can reduce disease to an acceptable level, or at least to a level at which further control by other cultural practices or conventional organic biocides are more successful and less expensive.

Key words: disease resistance / tolerance / plant physiology / metabolism / nutrients / deficiency / toxicity / integrative pest management

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© INRA, EDP Sciences 2008