Asexual Neotyphodium endophytes in a native grass reduce competitive abilities




Asexual, vertically transmitted endophytes are well known for increasing competitive abilities of agronomic grasses, but little is known about endophyte–host interactions in native grasses. We tested whether the asexual Neotyphodium endophyte enhances competitive abilities in a native grass, Arizona fescue, in a field experiment pairing naturally infected (E+) and uninfected (E−) plants, and in a greenhouse experiment pairing E+ and E− (experimentally removed) plants, under varying levels of soil water and nutrients. In the field experiment, E− plants had greater vegetative, but not reproductive, growth than E+ plants. In the greenhouse experiment, where plant genotype was strictly controlled, E− plants consistently outperformed their E+ counterparts in terms of root and shoot biomass. Thus, Neotyphodium infection decreases host fitness via reduced competitive properties, at least in the short term. These findings contrast starkly with most endophyte studies involving introduced, agronomic grasses where infection increases competitive abilities, and the interaction is viewed as highly mutualistic.