• Bacillus polymyxa;
  • Rhizobium etli;
  • Plant growth promotion;
  • Synergism;
  • Nodulation;
  • Rhizosphere

Abstract Microbial competition for carbon sources is a primary determinant of rhizosphere ecology. We employed the PCR to examine the population fluctuations of a symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacterium (Rhizobium etli) during the first 11 days following inoculation of Phaseolus vulgaris seedlings grown in the presence or absence of a common asymbiotic rhizosphere resident (Bacillus polymyxa). When B. polymyxa was applied as a co-inoculant, increases in both early rhizobial root populations and final root population densities were observed as compared to single inoculation with R. etli. Modifications to host plant growth (including increased lateral root formation and nodules number) were found concomitant with elevations in R. etli populations on plants co-inoculated with both bacterial genera. In contrast to the in planta results, population enhancements were not observed when R. etli and B. polymyxa were co-cultured in vitro using minimal media in the absence of the seedling. Addition of seed exudate to the growth media also failed to stimulate the population increases observed during co-release in planta. These results suggest that B. polymyxa acts indirectly (i.e., via the plant host) to increase R. etli populations. Our observed synergism among co-resident bacteria supports the hypothesis that microbial communities which colonize the spermosphere may play a significant role in plant development and rhizosphere ecology.