Introduction: The Grass-Endophyte Symbiosis
Symbiotic associations between plants and fungi are very common in ecological communities. In grasses, the hyphae of endophytic fungi (Family Clavicipitaceae; Tribe Balansiae) can be found growing between the cells of stems, leaves, and seeds. In terms of the endophyte's effect on the host, extensive investigation has revealed that the symbioses can range from parasitism to commensalism to mutualism. Effects of the endophyte on host grasses depends greatly on environmental conditions and the genotype of host and endophyte. The ramifications of endophyte-infected grasses within natural communities are complex and involve interactions among host plants, and primary and secondary consumers. Agronomically important grasses such as Festuca and Lolium species have been the most widely studied grass-endophyte systems. The assessment of endophyte infections in host populations using histochemical, biochemical, and molecular techniques reveals that the frequency of infection varies among populations, individuals, and tillers within individuals. The relative level or intensity of infection can also vary within and among tillers, and among individual host plants within a population. Grass-endophyte symbioses have the potential to impact their associated animal and plant communities as well as the ecosystems in which they occur.
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