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Ecology and Evolution of the Grass-Endophyte Symbiosis$
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Gregory P. Cheplick and Stanley Faeth

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195308082

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195308082.001.0001

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Community and Ecosystem Consequences of Grass Endophytes

Community and Ecosystem Consequences of Grass Endophytes

(p.145) 6 Community and Ecosystem Consequences of Grass Endophytes
Ecology and Evolution of the Grass-Endophyte Symbiosis

Gregory P. Cheplick

Stanley H. Faeth

Oxford University Press

Despite their minute biomass relative to other species, endophytes have the potential to have profound effects on community structure and diversity and ecosystem functions. For agronomic grasses, infection may decrease plant diversity and alter relative abundances and species richness of herbivores, predators, and parasites. In natural communities, endophyte infection has complex and often unpredictable effects on community and trophic diversity. The mechanism for these effects on higher trophic levels may be endophytic alkaloids or changes in plant physiology, morphology, or productivity that cascade upward in the community. Because natural enemies of herbivores may be more affected than herbivores, which have coevolved with alkaloids in natural grass communities, alkaloids may actually increase herbivory, counter to the long-held notion of endophytes as defensive plant mutualists. Endophytes, by altering competitive hierarchies, diversity, and productivity in communities may also render communities more invasible by non-native species as has been shown for agronomic tall fescue. Furthermore, infected tall fescue can also change successional sequences in old fields. For ecosystem functions, infected grasses may alter decomposition and nutrient cycling rates in old field communities. Much less is known about the effects of native infected grasses on community- and ecosystem-level properties and functions. Because seed-borne endophytes are maternally inherited components that dramatically alter plant phenotypes with widespread repercussions at the community and ecosystem level, they should make good models for testing recent notions of community genetics and extended phenotypes.

Keywords:   alkaloids, biodiversity, community genetics, decomposition, ecosystems, herbivores, productivity, succession, trophic structure

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