Native fungal endophytes suppress an exotic dominant and increase plant diversity over small and large spatial scales

Michelle E. Afkhami, Sharon Y. Strauss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations

Abstract

Understanding community dynamics and processes, such as the factors that generate and maintain biodiversity, drive succession, and affect invasion susceptibility, is a central goal in ecology and evolution. While most studies of how species interactions affect communities have focused on highly visible macroorganisms, we show that mutualistic microfungal endophytes have community-level effects across their host plant's range and provide the first example of fungal endophytes enhancing plant diversity. A three-year field study in which we experimentally manipulated endophyte abundance in a native Californian grass showed that despite their minute biomass, endophytes dramatically increased plant community diversity (∼110% greater increase with endophytes) by suppressing a dominant invasive grass, Bromus diandrus. This effect was also detectable, but smaller, across five additional common gardens spanning ecologically diverse habitats, different climates, and >400 km of the host grass' range as well as at microspatial scales within gardens. Our study illustrates that mutualistic microbes, while often hidden players, can have unexpectedly large ecological impacts across a wide range of habitats and scales and may be important for promoting diverse communities and ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1159-1169
Number of pages11
JournalEcology
Volume97
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - May 1 2016

Keywords

  • Biodiversity
  • Bromus laevipes
  • Epichloe
  • Evenness
  • Fungal endophyte
  • Grass
  • Hidden players
  • Invasive species
  • Keystone species
  • Mutualism
  • Richness
  • Symbiosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

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