1. Phyllosphere interactions are known to influence a variety of tree canopy community members, but less frequently have they been shown to affect processes across ecosystem boundaries. Here, we show that a fungal endophyte (Rhytisma punctatum) slows leaf litter decomposition of a dominant riparian tree species (Acer macrophyllum) in an adjacent stream ecosystem.
2. Patches of leaf tissue infected by R. punctatum show significantly slower decomposition compared to both nearby uninfected tissue from the same leaf, and completely uninfected leaves. These reduced rates of decomposition existed despite 50% greater nitrogen in infected tissues and may be driven by slower rates of decomposition for fungal tissues themselves or by endophyte–hyphomycete interactions.
3. Across a temperate forest in the Pacific Northwest, approximately 72% of all A. macrophyllum leaves were infected by R. punctatum. Since R. punctatum infection can influence leaf tissue on entire trees and large quantities of leaf litter at the landscape scale, this infection could potentially result in a mosaic of ‘cold spots’ of litter decomposition and altered nutrient cycling in riparian zones where this infection is prevalent.