Fungal endophytes: modifiers of plant disease
Many recent studies have demonstrated that non-pathogenic fungi within plant microbiomes, i.e., endophytes (“endo” = within, “phyte” = plant), can significantly modify the expression of host plant disease. The rapid pace of advancement in endophyte ecology warrants a pause to synthesize our understanding of endophyte disease modification and to discuss future research directions. We reviewed recent literature on fungal endophyte disease modification, and here report on several emergent themes: (1) Fungal endophyte effects on plant disease span the full spectrum from pathogen antagonism to pathogen facilitation, with pathogen antagonism most commonly reported. (2) Agricultural plant pathosystems are the focus of research on endophyte disease modification. (3) A taxonomically diverse group of fungal endophytes can influence plant disease severity. And (4) Fungal endophyte effects on plant disease severity are context-dependent. Our review highlights the importance of fungal endophytes for plant disease across a broad range of plant pathosystems, yet simultaneously reveals that complexity within plant microbiomes presents a significant challenge to disentangling the biotic environmental factors affecting plant disease severity. Manipulative studies integrating eco-evolutionary approaches with emerging molecular tools will be poised to elucidate the functional importance of endophytes in natural plant pathosystems that are fundamental to biodiversity and conservation.