Endophytic fungi alter relationships between diversity and ecosystem properties

Authors


* E-mail: jrudgers@indiana.edu

Abstract

Recent studies have expanded research on biodiversity by investigating whether the effects of diversity on ecosystem functioning hinge on the presence of symbiotic microorganisms. Cool-season grasses commonly harbour endophytic fungi that can enhance plant resistance to herbivory, drought and competition. We address whether these endosymbionts modify relationships between diversity and two ecosystem properties: productivity and invasibility. We develop a graphical model that predicts endophyte infection of a grass host will weaken correlations between diversity and ecosystem properties. We then use a long-term field experiment to test this prediction by manipulating symbiosis in tall fescue grass (Festuca arundinacea), a common and invasive species in the US. As predicted, endophyte infection reduced the strength of correlations between diversity and both primary productivity and the invasiveness of tall fescue. By altering relationships between diversity and ecosystem functioning, endophytic fungi may contribute more to the dynamics of communities than previously supposed.

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