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Broad-scale geographic patterns in the distribution of vertically-transmitted, asexual endophytes in four naturally-occurring grasses in Sweden

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The presence and distribution of vertically-transmitted, asexual Neotyphodium/Epichloë endophytes in four species of widely distributed grasses, all members of the sub-family Pooideae, were determined at 57 spatially-distinct sites across Sweden in naturally-occurring grass populations. While these endophytes are well-studied in agricultural systems, much less is known about their abundance and distribution in non-agricultural systems at larger scales across landscapes. We used two screening methods to detect endophytes: 1) visual inspection of fixed, stained grass shoots, and 2) immunoblot cards with monoclonal antibodies specific for Neotyphodium/Epichloë endophytes. Infection frequency (i.e. the proportion of individuals) varied widely among species and among sites, a finding common to most studies performed in non-agricultural ecosystems. Festuca rubra had the highest overall infection frequency (23% visual screening, 27% immunoblot screening), while Deschampsia flexuosa (4%) and Poa trivialis (4%) had low frequencies of infection. None of the sampled Agrostis capillaris populations were infected. In F. rubra, the within-site infection frequency varied from 0 to 100%. A significant altitudinal gradient was found for F. rubra, with the infection frequency of the vertically-transmitted endophyte Epichloë festucae decreasing with increasing altitude above sea level. The high variation across and within grass species at different geographical locations that ours and others’ studies reveal, agree with suggestions that agronomic model systems cannot be readily extrapolated to understand the ecological role of endophytes in native grasses in the wild. Further investigation into the underlying cause of the observed altitudinal gradient is required to understand broader-scale patterns in the distribution of endophyte-infected grasses.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2007

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