Dark septate endophytes: a review of facultative biotrophic root-colonizing fungi



Dark septate root endophytes (DSE) are conidial or sterile fungi (Deuteromycotina, Fungi Imperfecti) likely to be ascomycetous and colonizing plant roots. They have been reported for nearly 600 plant species representing about 320 genera and 100 families. DSE fungi occur from the tropics to arctic and alpine habitats and comprise a heterogeneous group that functionally and ecologically overlaps with soil fungi, saprotrophic rhizoplane-inhabiting fungi, obligately and facultatively pathogenic fungi and mycorrhizal fungi. Numerous species of undescribed sterile and anamorphic taxa may also await discovery. Although DSE are abundant in washed root and soil samples from various habitats, and are easily isolated from surface-sterilized roots of ecto-, ectendo-, endo- and non-mycorrhizal host species, their ecological functions are little understood. Studies of DSE thus far have yielded inconsistent results and only poorly illustrate the role of DSE in their natural habitats. These inconsistencies are largely due to the uncertain taxonomic affinities of the strains of DSE used. In addition, because different strains of a single anamorph taxon seem to vary greatly in function, no clear generalizations on their ecological role have been drawn. This paper reviews the current literature on DSE and the ecology and discusses the need for and direction of future research.