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Data from: Fungal endophytes of Festuca rubra increase in frequency following long-term exclusion of rabbits

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Santangelo, James S.; Turley, Nash E.; Johnson, Marc T. J. (2016). Data from: Fungal endophytes of Festuca rubra increase in frequency following long-term exclusion of rabbits [Dataset]. Dryad.


Plant-fungal endophyte interactions are common in nature and they can shape the ecology of plants. Vertically transmitted endophytes are hypothesized to serve as mutualists, protecting plants from herbivores. If this hypothesis is true then we expect endophytes to be most abundant in the presence of herbivores and least abundant in their absence, assuming endophytes incur a cost to their host. We tested this prediction by studying the effects of intense rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) grazing on grass-endophyte interactions at Silwood Park, UK. We examined seeds of red fescue (Festuca rubra) collected from 15 natural populations that were protected from rabbits for 0.3 to 21 years. Contrary to our prediction, the mean proportion of seeds with endophytes increased 1.84x, from 0.45 to 0.83, following 21 years of rabbit exclusion. To better understand the mechanisms driving this increase in frequency, we conducted a fully factorial greenhouse experiment where we manipulated the presence/absence of endophyte infection, intraspecific competition, and simulated grazing on F. rubra plants. In both damaged and undamaged treatments, infected plants produced approximately twice as much biomass as uninfected plants, and endophytes did not influence tolerance to herbivory. These results suggest that endophytes directly change plant growth but not compensatory responses to damage. In the absence of competitors, infected plants produced 2.17x more biomass than uninfected plants, whereas in the presence of competitors infected plants produced only 1.55x more biomass than uninfected plants. This difference suggests that intraspecific competition might lessen the benefits of endophyte infection. Our results do not support the Defensive Mutualism Hypothesis, but instead suggest that endophyte-induced plant growth is important in shaping the costs and benefits of endophytes in our system.

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Silwood Park Imperial College London
University of Toronto Mississauga