Does hybridization of endophytic symbionts in a native grass increase fitness in resource-limited environments?

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 )
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Abstract: Hybridization is common among plants, animals and microbes. However, the ecological consequences of hybridization for microbes are far less understood than for plants and animals. For symbiotic Epichloë fungi, hybridization is widespread and may augment the well-known benefits of the endophytes to their grass hosts, especially in stressful environments. We tested the hybrid fitness hypothesis (HFH) that hybrid endophytes enhance fitness in stressful environments relative to non-hybrid endophytes. In a long-term field experiment, we monitored growth and reproduction of hybrid-infected (H+), non-hybrid infected (NH+), naturally endophyte free (E-) plants and those plants from which the endophyte had been experimentally removed (H- and NH-) in resource-rich and resource-poor environments. Infection by both endophyte species enhanced growth and reproduction. H+ plants outperformed NH+ plants in terms of growth by the end of the experiment, supporting HFH. However, H+ plants only outperformed NH+ plants in the resource-rich treatment, contrary to HFH. Plant genotypes associated with each endophyte species had strong effects on growth and reproduction. Our results provide some support the HFH hypothesis but not based upon adaptation to stressful environments. Our results reinforce the notion of a complex interplay between endophyte and plant genotype and environmental factors that determine fitness of the symbiotum.

Additional Information

Ecology, 98: 138-149. doi:10.1002/ecy.1626
Language: English
Date: 2017
endophyte, Epichloë, Festuca arizonica , hybridization, mutualism, symbionts

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