Endophytic fungi from Peruvian highland and lowland habitats form distinctive and host plant-specific assemblages
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- Unterseher, M., Gazis, R., Chaverri, P. et al. Biodivers Conserv (2013) 22: 999. doi:10.1007/s10531-013-0464-x
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Biodiversity and biogeography of leaf-inhabiting endophytic fungi have not been resolved yet. This is because host specificity, life cycles and species concepts, in this heterogeneous ecological guild of plant-associated microfungi, are far from being understood. Even though it is known that culture-based collection techniques are often biased, this has been the method of choice for studying fungal endophytes. Isolation of fungal endophytes only through culture-based methods could potentially mask slow growing species as well as species with low prevalence, preventing the capture of the communities’ real diversity and composition. This bias can be partially resolved by the use of cultivation-independent approaches such as direct sequencing of plant tissue by next generation techniques. Irrespective of the chosen sampling method, an efficient analysis of community ecology is urgently needed in order to evaluate the driving forces acting on fungal endophytic communities. In the present study, endophytic ascomyceteous fungi from three different plant genera (Vasconcellea microcarpa, Tillandsia spp., and Heveabrasiliensis) distributed in Peru, were isolated through culture-based sampling techniques and sequenced for their ITS rDNA region. These data sets were used to assess host preferences and biogeographic patterns of endophytic assemblages. This study showed that the effect of the host’s genetic background (identity) has a significant effect on the composition of the fungal endophytic community. In other words, the composition of the fungal endophytic community was significantly related to their host’s taxonomic identity. However, this was not true for all endophytic groups, since we found some endophytic groups (e.g. Xylariales and Pleosporales) occurring in more than one host genus. Findings from this study promote the formulation of hypotheses related to the effect of altitudinal changes on the endophytic communities along the Eastern Andean slopes. These hypotheses and perspectives for fungal biodiversity research and conservation in Peru are addressed and discussed.