Evol Ecol Res 12: 769-777 (2010)     Full PDF if your library subscribes.

Fungal endophytes protect grass seedlings against herbivory and allow economical seed production

Marcin Czarnoleski1, Paweł Olejniczak2, Paulina Mikołajczak3, Marlena Lembicz3 and Jan Kozłowski1

1Institute of Environmental Sciences, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, 2Institute of Nature Conservation, Polish Academy of Sciences, Kraków and  3Department of Plant Taxonomy, A. Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland

Correspondence: M. Lembicz, Department of Plant Taxonomy, A. Mickiewicz University, Umultowska 89, 61-614 Poznań, Poland.
e-mail: lembicz@amu.edu.pl


Background: When infected with seed-transmitted fungal endophytes, some grasses produce a larger quantity of seeds, although these seeds are smaller than normal. The principles of life-history theory suggest that this size reduction could evolve if the infection reduces predation pressure.

Question: Does the endophyte protect grass seedlings against herbivory?

Hypothesis: Herbivores consume more seedlings that develop from endophyte-free grass seeds than from endophyte-infected grass seeds.

Organisms: Epichloë typhina is the seed-transmitted endophytic fungus, the weeping alkaligrass (Puccinellia distans) seedlings are the hosts, and the grove snail (Cepaea nemoralis) is the herbivore.

Methods: Our experiment consisted of two 66-h food-choice tests. The tests were performed consecutively and on the same individual snails. We offered snails freshly harvested weeping alkaligrass seedlings with and without the endophyte.

Results: Starved snails consumed approximately 20% less biomass of infected seedlings than uninfected seedlings. When the same snails were tested again shortly after their first contact with the endophyte, they exhibited an approximately 40% reduction in seedling consumption, and food discrimination became undetectable.

Conclusions: Toxins produced by endophytic fungi reduce the vulnerability of grass seedlings to snail herbivory

Keywords: fungal endophytes, herbivory, life history, resource allocation, seedlings, seed mass, seed quality, snails.

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