Soil microbial populations are immersed in a framework of interactions known to affect plant fitness and soil quality. They are involved in fundamental activities that ensure the stability and productivity of both agricultural systems and natural ecosystems. Strategic and applied research has demonstrated that certain co-operative microbial activities can be exploited, as a low-input biotechnology, to help sustainable, environmentally-friendly, agro-technological practices. Much research is addressed at improving understanding of the diversity, dynamics, and significance of rhizosphere microbial populations and their co-operative activities. An analysis of the co-operative microbial activities known to affect plant development is the general aim of this review. In particular, this article summarizes and discusses significant aspects of this general topic, including (i) the analysis of the key activities carried out by the diverse trophic and functional groups of micro-organisms involved in co-operative rhizosphere interactions; (ii) a critical discussion of the direct microbe-microbe interactions which results in processes benefiting sustainable agro-ecosystem development; and (iii) beneficial microbial interactions involving arbuscular mycorrhiza, the omnipresent fungus-plant beneficial symbiosis. The trends of this thematic area will be outlined, from molecular biology and ecophysiological issues to the biotechnological developments for integrated management, to indicate where research is needed in the future.
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