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Fungal endophytes and host plant symbioses Mutualism, neutralism, or antagonism?

Fungal endophytes and host plant symbioses Mutualism, neutralism, or antagonism?

American Zoologist 40(6): 1011

Systemic endophytic fungi are though to interact mutualistically with their host grasses mainly by increasing resistance to herbivores via alkaloids, as well as by increasing drought resistance, germination success, competitive abilities and deterring seed pathogens and predators. However, antiherbivore effects have been documented only for a relatively few grasses, mostly agronomic ones, and mostly on non-native herbivores. There are few studies of the interaction of endophytes in native grass populations and communities. I show that relatively few native grasses infected with systemic endophytes have strong negative effects on either invertebrate or vertebrate herbivores. Observational and experimental studies of Neotyphodium-infected Arizona fescue, a widespread and native grass, demonstrate a general lack of herbivore resistance. In field and greenhouse experiments, infected seeds show reduced germination success and increased susceptibility to fungal pathogens. The only positive effects of the endophyte appear to involve increased rates of plant growth, but only under specific environmental conditions and only with certain plant genotypes. I propose that the mutualism between endophytes and host grasses is conditional based upon plant and fungal genotype, which influence alkaloid production, and environmental factors.

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