Are tropical fungal endophytes hyperdiverse?


A. Elizabeth Arnold E-mail:


Fungal endophytes are ubiquitous fungi that inhabit healthy plant tissues without causing disease. Endophytes have been found in every plant species examined to date and may be important, but often overlooked, components of fungal biodiversity. In two sites in a lowland, moist tropical forest of central Panama, we quantified endophyte colonization patterns, richness, host preference, and spatial variation in healthy leaves of two co-occurring, understory tree species [Heisteria concinna (Olacaceae) and Ouratea lucens (Ochnaceae)]. From 83 leaves, all of which were colonized by endophytes, we isolated 418 endophyte morphospecies (estimated 347 genetically distinct taxa), most of which were represented by only a single isolate (59%). Among morphospecies encountered in more than one leaf (nonsingletons), we found evidence of host preference and spatial heterogeneity using both morphospecies frequencies and presence/absence records. Based on these data, we postulate that tropical endophytes themselves may be hyperdiverse and suggest that extrapolative estimates that exclude them will markedly underestimate fungal species diversity.