Interactions among fungal endophytes, grasses and herbivores
- Cite this article as:
- Clay, K. Res Popul Ecol (1996) 38: 191. doi:10.1007/BF02515727
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The interaction between two species often depends on the presence or absence of a third species. One widespread three-species interaction involves fungal endophytes infecting grasses and the herbivores that feed upon them. The endophytes are allied with the fungal family Clavicipitaceae and grow systemically in intercellular spaces in above-ground plant tissues including seeds. Like relatedClaviceps species, the endophytes produce a variety of alkaloids that make the host plants toxic or distasteful to herbivores. A large number of grass species are infected, especially cool-season grasses in temperate areas. Field and laboratory studies have shown that herbivores avoid infected plants in choice trials and suffer increased mortality and decreased growth on infected grasses in feeding experiments. Resistance to herbivores may provide a selective advantage to infected plants in competitive interactions with noninfected plants. Recent studies have shown that differential herbivory can reverse competitive hierarchies among plant species. Both endophyte-infected and noninfected tall fescue grass (Festuca arundinacea) are outcompeted by orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata) in the absence of insect herbivory. However, when herbivores are present infected tall fescue outcompetes orchardgrass. These results suggest that the frequency of infection in grass species and grassland communities will increase over time. Several studies are reviewed illustrating increases in infection frequency within grass populations subject to herbivore pressure. Endophytic fungi may be important regulators of plant-herbivore interactions and so indirectly affect the structure and dynamics of plant communities.