Plant Host and Geographic Location Drive Endophyte Community Composition in the Face of Perturbation

Abstract

All plants form symbioses with endophytic fungi, which affect host plant health and function. Most endophytic fungi are horizontally transmitted, and consequently, local environment and geographic location greatly influence endophyte community composition. Growing evidence also suggests that identity of the plant host (e.g., species, genotype) can be important in shaping endophyte communities. However, little is known about how disturbances to plants affect their fungal symbiont communities. The goal of this study was to test if disturbances, from both natural and anthropogenic sources, can alter endophyte communities independent of geographic location or plant host identity. Using the plant species white snakeroot (Ageratina altissima; Asteraceae), we conducted two experiments that tested the effect of perturbation on endophyte communities. First, we examined endophyte response to leaf mining insect activity, a natural perturbation, in three replicate populations. Second, for one population, we applied fungicide to plant leaves to test endophyte community response to an anthropogenic perturbation. Using culture-based methods and Sanger sequencing of fungal isolates, we then examined abundance, diversity, and community structure of endophytic fungi in leaves subjected to perturbations by leaf mining and fungicide application. Our results show that plant host individual and geographic location are the major determinants of endophyte community composition even in the face of perturbations. Unexpectedly, we found that leaf mining did not impact endophyte communities in white snakeroot, but fungicide treatment resulted in small but significant changes in endophyte community structure. Together, our results suggest that endophyte communities are highly resistant to biotic and anthropogenic disturbances.

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Acknowledgments

We gratefully acknowledge financial support from Sigma Xi (NC), the Indiana Academy of Science (NC and NDV), the Indiana University Research and Teaching Preserve (NC) and the Indiana University Hutton Honors College (CS). NC was supported by the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship program. We thank M. Abolins-Abols, Q. Chai, L. Durden, L. Henry, Z. Shearin, A. Snyder, B. Whitaker, Y. Zhao, and an anonymous reviewer for their feedback on the manuscript, the Indiana University Research and Teaching Preserve for use of sampling sites, and the Indiana Molecular Biology Institute for sequencing assistance.

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Correspondence to Natalie Christian.

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Christian, N., Sullivan, C., Visser, N.D. et al. Plant Host and Geographic Location Drive Endophyte Community Composition in the Face of Perturbation. Microb Ecol 72, 621–632 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00248-016-0804-y

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Keywords

  • Microbiome
  • Fungi
  • Disturbance
  • Herbivory
  • Fungicide
  • Ageratina altissima