Fertilizer use in modern agriculture is highly inefficient; much of the applied fertilizer is released into the environment, causing environmental degradation. One way in which fertilizer use can be reduced without damaging plant nutrition is to enhance crop uptake of nutrients through the use of biostimulants.
A broad definition of plant biostimulants, including substances sometimes categorized as biofertilizers or biopesticides, is used throughout this review: “Plant biostimulants are substances or materials, with the exception of nutrients and pesticides, which, when applied to plants, seeds, or growing substrates in specific formulations, have the capacity to modify physiological processes in plants in a way that provides potential benefits to growth, development, or stress response.”
This definition includes a variety of substances, four of which will be reviewed in this article: seaweed extract, humic substances, amino acids, and plant-growth-promoting bacteria. We will concentrate on the positive effects of biostimulant application on plant nutrient uptake, and the underlying mechanisms, which include positive changes in soil structure or nutrient solubility, root morphology, plant physiology, and symbiotic relationships, will be discussed.
Recommendations for future research directions include finding the most promising substances, isolating the active ingredients and clearly demonstrating the mechanisms by which they affect nutrient uptake.
The beneficial effects and mechanisms must be consistently demonstrated in greenhouse and field experiments.