Testing for loss of Epichloë and non-epichloid symbionts under altered rainfall regimes

Aaron S. David, Lukas P. Bell-Dereske, Sarah M. Emery, Brandon M. McCormick, Eric W. Seabloom, Jennifer A. Rudgers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Premise: Microbial symbionts can buffer plant hosts from environmental change. Therefore, understanding how global change factors alter the associations between hosts and their microbial symbionts may improve predictions of future changes in host population dynamics and microbial diversity. Here, we investigated how one global change factor, precipitation, affected the maintenance or loss of symbiotic fungal endophytes in a C3 grass host. Specifically, we examined the distinct responses of Epichloë (vertically transmitted and systemic) and non-epichloid endophytes (typically horizontally transmitted and localized) by considering (1) how precipitation altered associations with Epichloë and non-epichloid endophytic taxa across host ontogeny, and (2) interactive effects of water availability and Epichloë on early seedling life history stages. Methods: We manipulated the presence of Epichloë amarillans in American beachgrass (Ammophila breviligulata) in a multiyear field experiment that imposed three precipitation regimes (ambient or ±30% rainfall). In laboratory assays, we investigated the interactive effects of water availability and Epichloë on seed viability and germination. Results: Reduced precipitation decreased the incidence of Epichloë in leaves in the final sampling period, but had no effect on associations with non-epichloid taxa. Epichloë reduced the incidence of non-epichloid endophytes, including systemic p-endophytes, in seeds. Laboratory assays suggested that association with Epichloë is likely maintained, in part, due to increased seed viability and germination regardless of water availability. Conclusions: Our study empirically demonstrates several pathways for plant symbionts to be lost or maintained across host ontogeny and suggests that reductions in precipitation can drive the loss of a plant's microbial symbionts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1081-1089
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican journal of botany
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank B. Haley for laboratory and field assistance and G. May for providing feedback and laboratory support. We thank Editor-In-Chief P. Diggle, the Associate Editor, and two anonymous reviewers for constructive feedback that greatly improved this manuscript. This work was funded by NSF DEB 0918267 to S.M.E. and J.A.R., NSF DEB 1145588 to J.A.R., National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF 0940902) and the George Melendez Wright Climate Change Fellowship to L.B.D., and awards from the NSF IGERT Introduced Species and Genotypes program (DGE-0653827), NSF Graduate Research Fellowship program (NSF 00039202), and University of Minnesota Rothman Fellowship to A.S.D.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Botanical Society of America


  • beachgrass
  • climate change
  • dunes
  • endophyte
  • horizontal transmission
  • mutualism
  • p-endophyte
  • precipitation
  • symbiosis
  • vertical transmission


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