The authors acknowledge permits and access to the study sites from Oregon State Parks (permit no. 010-15), the U.S. Forest Service (permit no. MSH287) and Dr John G. Bishop. Funding from the Botanical Society of America (Graduate Student Research Award to B.S.Y.) and the National Science Foundation (IOS nos. 1457369 and 1656057 to D.J.B.) is gratefully acknowledged. Additionally, the authors are appreciative of research support from M. Chmielewski, M. Dinsdale, A. Davis and J. Laumann.
Fungal endophytes, Plant-microbe relationships
Fungal endophytes are critical members of the plant microbiome, but their community dynamics throughout an entire growing season are underexplored. Additionally, most fungal endophyte research has centred on seed-reproducing hosts, while spore-reproducing plants also host endophytes and may be colonized by unique community members. In order to examine annual fungal endophyte community dynamics in a spore-reproducing host, we explored endophytes in a single population of ferns, Polystichum munitum, in the Pacific Northwest. Through metabarcoding, we characterized the community assembly and temporal turnover of foliar endophytes throughout a growing season. From these results, we selected endophytes with outsized representations in sequence data and performed in vitro competition assays. Finally, we inoculated sterile fern gametophytes with dominant fungi observed in the field and determined their effects on host performance. Sequencing demonstrated that ferns were colonized by a diverse community of fungal endophytes in newly emerged tissue, but diversity decreased throughout the season leading to the preponderance of a single fungus in later sampling months. This previously undescribed endophyte appears to abundantly colonize the host to the detriment of other microfungi. Competition assays on a variety of media types failed to demonstrate that the dominant fungus was competitive against other fungi isolated from the same hosts, and inoculation onto sterile fern gametophytes did not alter growth compared to sterile controls, suggesting its effects are not antagonistic. The presence of this endophyte in the fern population probably demonstrates a case of repeated colonization driving competitive exclusion of other fungal community members.
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Younginger, B. S., Stewart, N. U., Balkan, M. A., & Ballhorn, D. J. (2022). Stable coexistence or competitive exclusion? Fern endophytes demonstrate rapid turnover favoring a dominant fungus. Molecular Ecology.