Environmental factors affect the distribution of two Epichloë fungal endophyte species inhabiting a common host grove bluegrass (Poa alsodes)

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Stanley H. Faeth, Professor Emeritus (Creator)
Tatsiana Shymanovich, Postdoctoral Fellow (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/

Abstract: 2018-2019 UNCG University Libraries Open Access Publishing Fund Grant Winner.

Aim: The endophyte Epichloë alsodes, with known insecticidal properties, is found in a majority of Poa alsodes populations across a latitudinal gradient from North Carolina to New York. A second endophyte, E. schardlii var. pennsylvanica, with known insect-deterring effects, is limited to a few populations in Pennsylvania. We explored whether such disparate differences in distributions could be explained by selection from biotic and abiotic environmental factors.

Location: Along the Appalachian Mountains from North Carolina to New York, USA.

Taxon: Fungi.

Methods: Studied correlations of infection frequencies with abiotic and biotic environmental factors. Checked endophyte vertical transmission rates and effects on overwintering survival. With artificial inoculations for two host populations with two isolates per endophyte species, tested endophyte–host compatibility. Studied effects of isolates on host performances in greenhouse experiment with four water-nutrients treatments.

Results: Correlation analysis revealed positive associations of E. alsodes frequency with July Max temperatures, July precipitation, and soil nitrogen and phosphorous and negative associations with insect damage and soil magnesium and potassium. Plants infected with E. alsodes had increased overwintering survival compared to plants infected with E. schardlii or uninfected (E-) plants. Artificial inoculations indicated that E. alsodes had better compatibility with a variety of host genotypes than did E. schardlii. The experiment with reciprocally inoculated plants grown under different treatments revealed a complexity of interactions among hosts, endophyte species, isolate within species, host plant origin, and environmental factors. Neither of the endophyte species increased plant biomass, but some of the isolates within each species had other effects on plant growth such as increased root:shoot ratio, number of tillers, and changes in plant height that might affect host fitness.

Main conclusion: In the absence of clear and consistent effects of the endophytes on host growth, the differences in endophyte-mediated protection against herbivores may be the key factor determining distribution differences of the two endophyte species.

Additional Information

Ecology and Evolution. 2019; 9: 6624– 6642
Language: English
Date: 2019
ecological factors, endophyte distributions, endophyte-host compatibility, grass populations, host plant growth, infection benefits, southeastern North America

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