Bell-Dereske, L. P. and S. E. Evans. 2021. Contributions of environmental and maternal transmission to the assembly of leaf fungal endophyte communities. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 288:20210621.
Leaf fungal endophytes (LFEs) contribute to plant growth and responses to stress. Fungi colonize leaves through maternal transmission, e.g. via the seed, and through environmental transmission, e.g. via aerial dispersal. The relative importance of these two pathways in assembly and function of the LFE community is poorly understood. We used amplicon sequencing to track switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) LFEs in a greenhouse and field experiment as communities assembled from seed endophytes and rain fungi (integration of wet and dry aerial dispersal) in germinating seeds, seedlings, and adult plants. Rain fungi varied temporally and hosted a greater portion of switchgrass LFE richness (greater than 65%) than were found in seed endophytes (greater than 25%). Exposure of germinating seeds to rain inoculum increased dissimilarity between LFE communities and seed endophytes, increasing the abundance of rain-derived taxa, but did not change diversity. In the field, seedling LFE composition changed more over time, with a decline in seed-derived taxa and an increase in richness, in response to environmental transmission than LFEs of adult plants. We show that environmental transmission is an important driver of LFE assembly, and likely plant growth, but its influence depends on both the conditions at the time of colonization and plant life stage.
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