Even after death the endophytic fungus of Schedonorus phoenix reduces the arbuscular mycorrhizas of other plants
1 Plants can host microbial communities whose integrated functions are often responsible for their success. Understanding mechanisms regulating such functions is thus a major goal in ecology. 2 Fungal endophytes of grasses, particularly of the genus Neotyphodium, have been reported to reduce colonization of their host plant by arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi. However, it is unclear which mechanism(s) may explain the effects produced by the endophyte and whether these effects are present in nature. 3 We used Schedonorus phoenix (syn. Lolium arundinaceum) plants that were endophyte-free or infected with one of two strains of Neotyphodium coenophialum known to produce different putative allelochemicals to test the hypotheses that (i) allelopathic effects of the endophyte reduce AM fungal spore germination; and (ii) the allelochemical compound(s) are leached into the soil even after the death of S. phoenix, where they reduce AM fungal colonization of other plants. 4 In a first experiment, aqueous extracts from the shoots of S. phoenix were applied onto spores of the AM fungus Glomus intraradices to test germination effects. Both endophyte strains reduced spore germination by approximately 10% relative to endophyte-free controls. 5 In a second experiment, we placed dried shoot material (‘thatch’) on the soil surface of pots containing Bromus inermis, which were either inoculated with G. intraradices or not. We watered the plants through the thatch, relying upon leaching to translocate potential allelochemicals to the soil. AM fungal colonization of B. inermis was significantly reduced when thatch was infected with the common strain, but not with AR542, compared to the endophyte-free thatch. Furthermore, the arbuscule : vesicle ratio was 11-fold smaller when thatch was infected with the common strain compared to endophyte-free thatch, suggesting that G. intraradices was stressed by the presence of common strain-leachate. 6 We observed situations whereby two ecologically widespread plant-microbe symbioses interact. Potential mechanisms may include allelopathic effects, although other factors are also possible, and leaching is a mode of entry of putative endophyte-induced AM fungal inhibitors in soil. Understanding these processes is important as they affect AM fungal communities which contribute to plant success and, consequentially, grassland ecosystem dynamics.