The effect of endophyte presence on Schedonorus arundinaceus (tall fescue) establishment varies with grassland community structure
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- Yurkonis, K.A., Drystek, E., Maherali, H. et al. Oecologia (2014) 174: 1377. doi:10.1007/s00442-013-2862-x
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The endophyte Neotyphodium coenophialum in Schedonorus arundinaceus (tall fescue) may alter host interactions with specific resident species or shift the host’s niche. These effects can be quantified by assessing tall fescue responses to, and effects on, the variation among resident species (selection) and resident species interactions (complementarity). To determine how N. coenophialum affects tall fescue, grassland microcosms containing 16 transplants of two, four, or eight resident species were seeded with endophyte-infected (E+) or endophyte-free (E−) Kentucky-31 (KY-31) tall fescue. All resident species were also grown in monoculture. Aboveground biomass was harvested 9 weeks after tall fescue was added (18 weeks’ total growth). At harvest, more E+ than E− individuals were present and they represented a larger portion of the aboveground biomass across richness treatments, despite similar germination in concurrent trials. Tall fescue individuals were larger in microcosms dominated by more productive resident species (greater selection). In contrast, fewer E−, but not E+, individuals were present in microcosms with more facilitative interactions among the resident species (greater complementarity). E− and E+ tall fescue also affected resident species differently. High-richness E+ microcosms were more diverse and less dominated by productive species (lower selection) than E− microcosms. Thus, E+ KY-31 may more readily establish in, and affect, species-rich, functionally diverse communities as a result of niche shifts during establishment and negative effects on specific resident species. Although results need to be further tested under field conditions, it appears that endophyte presence may only facilitate KY-31 invasion into a limited suite of community types.