The Effects of Endophytes on Seed Production and Seed Predation of Tall Fescue and Meadow Fescue
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Fungal endophytes of grasses are often included in agricultural management and in ecological studies of natural grass populations. In European agriculture and ecological studies, however, grass endophytes are largely ignored. In this study, we determined endophyte infection frequencies of 13 European cultivars and 49 wild tall fescue (Schedonorus phoenix) populations in Northern Europe. We then examined seed production and seed predation of endophyte-infected (E+) and endophyte-free (E−) tall fescue (in wild grass populations and in a field experiment) and meadow fescue (Schedonorus pratensis; in a field experiment only). Endophytes were detected in only one of the 13 cultivars. In contrast, >90% of wild tall fescue plants harbored endophytes in 45 wild populations but were absent in three inland populations in Estonia. In three wild tall fescue study sites, 17%, 22%, and 56% of the seeds were preyed upon by the cocksfoot moth. Endophyte infection did not affect seed mass of tall fescue in the field experiment. However, seed predation was lower in E+ than E− grasses in the two tall fescue populations with higher predation rates. For meadow fescue, the mean number of seeds from E+ plants was higher than E− plants, but E− and E+ seeds had equal rates of predation by the moth. Our results suggest that the effects of grass endophytes on seed production and cocksfoot moth seed predation vary considerably among grass species, and the effects may depend on herbivore pressure and other environmental conditions.