[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Seedborne systemic endophytic fungi of grasses are thought to be plant mutualists, because they have been shown to improve their host's resistance against biotic and abiotic stresses. The interactions in plant-endophyte associations vary from mutualistic to parasitic with environmental conditions and the genotypes of interacting species. The possible pros and cons of endophytic fungi are expected to be most evident during the seedling establishment, where host fitness is most directly affected. If this holds true, endophytes may play a focal role in local adaptation of hosts to different environments. We examined if endophyte-infected and uninfected seeds and seedlings of two native grass species, Festuca rubra and F. ovina, differ in seed germination and seedling growth rates under greenhouse conditions. The germination of F. rubra seeds was also studied in the field. This is the first time that the effects of Epichloë endophyte on seedling establishment of fine fescues from natural populations have been experimentally evaluated. Mother plant (seed family) had a marked effect on many response variables in both grass species. Length and mean biomass of tillers of endophyte-infected (E+) F. ovina seedlings were lower, but root:shoot ratios were higher than in endophyte-free (E-) seedlings. In F. rubra, the effects of the endophyte were dependent on the habitat where the seeds were collected. The E+ seeds from river banks germinated faster than E+ seeds from meadows, and E+ seedlings from the river banks produced fewer but taller and heavier tillers than the other seedlings. Our data suggest that the effects of the endophyte infection on the seedling stage of fine fescues are dependent the species of grass, host genetic background and mother plant habitat. The germination strategy and growth form of E+ red fescue seedlings from river banks may be beneficial to surviving in the harsh conditions of that habitat.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Epichloë species are systemic fungal endophytes that usually specialize in a certain group of related grass species. We examined the infection frequency of Epichloë festucae in populations of two fine fescue species (Festuca rubra and F. ovina) in natural and seminatural habitats at 86 study sites (total=2514 plants) across Finland and northern Norway. Infection incidence varied significantly among grass species and populations. A substantial number of the F. rubra and F. ovina populations (53 out of 77 and 25 out of 30, respectively) were either endophyte-free or had very low (<20%) infection frequencies. The highest infection frequencies were found in subarctic areas. Moreover, infection incidence differed between habitats. In the area with the highest infection frequencies, we used microsatellite markers to study genetic diversity and the rates of gene flow of E. festucae among 12 F. rubra populations. Twenty out of the 25 fungal genotypes detected with four microsatellite markers were carrying multiple alleles in at least one locus, indicating multiple infections or vegetative hybridization of the fungus. One dominant genotype occurred in all 12 populations, representing 63.5% of all isolates. We found a moderate level of average genotypic variation and a low level of genetic differentiation (Fst=0.0814). There was no correlation between infection frequency and genotypic diversity. Although the existence of a dominant genotype and the detected linkage disequilibrium suggest that the fungus is mainly asexual and vertically transmitted, the multiallelic loci and variation of genetic diversity among populations indicate occasional contagious spread and sexual or parasexual recombination of the fungus in some populations. Furthermore, the genotypes carrying multiallelic loci suggest the possibility of multiple infections or hybridization of the endophyte.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The relationship between vertically transmitted asexual fungal grass endophytes and their hosts is considered to be mutualistic. Results from agronomic field support this line of reasoning but recent studies have shown more variable results in natural systems. We investigated how high and low nutrient and water treatments affected biomass allocation patterns of endophyte-infected and uninfected Festuca pratensis and F. rubra in greenhouse experiments over two growing seasons. Irrespective of infection status, both grass species showed improved performance on highly fertilized and watered soils. However, infected F. pratensis plants produced larger tillers than endophyte-free plants on soil low in nutrients and water in the first growing season, although they (E+) otherwise showed decreased performance on nutrient-poor soil. In low nutrient and water conditions, endophyte-infected plants produced less tillers and had lower total biomass compared to uninfected plants, and displayed a negative phenotypic correlation between seed production and vegetative growth. The latter indicates costs of reproduction when the plant shares common resources with the fungal endophyte. However, endophyte infection status (E+, E−) interacted significantly with the soil fertilisation in terms of plant growth, having a stronger positive effect on growth in infected F. pratensis plants. In F. rubra, endophyte-infected plants showed higher vegetative growth in fertilized and watered soils compared to uninfected plants. However, infected plants tended to produce fewer inflorescences. This had no effect on seed production, perhaps because seed production was partly replaced by asexual pseudovivipary. Contrary to the general assumption in the literature that fungal endophytes are plant mutualists, these findings suggest that the costs of endophytes may outweigh their benefits in resource limited conditions. However, the costs of endophyte infections appear to differ among the grass species studied; costs of endophytes were mainly detected in F. pratensis under low nutrient conditions. We propose that differences in response to endophyte infection in these species may depend on the differences in life-history strategies and environmental requirements of these two fescue and fungal species and may change during the life span of the plant.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We studied interactions between microfungi and herbivores sharing a host tree. In a series of experiments and field observations over a 3-year period, we compared phenotypic and genetic correlations of fungal frequencies and performance of invertebrate herbivores growing on mature half-sib progenies of mountain birches (Betula pubescens ssp. czerepanovii) in two environments, a forested river valley and an adjacent higher-elevation mountain birch woodland. We found little support for direct relation between fungal frequencies and performance of herbivore species. Instead, genetic correlations, particularly between autumnal moth (Epirrita autumnata) and rust fungus (Melampsoridium betulinum), suggest that herbivore performance may be caused by (1) genetic differences in plant quality for fungi and herbivores, or (2) genetic differences in responses to environmental conditions.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We investigated whether genetic variation of a common foliar endophyte of birch trees, Venturia ditricha, is affected by environmental conditions or host genotype. Fungal samples were collected from 10 half-sibling families of mountain birch (Betula pubescens ssp. czerepanovii) grown in two environmental conditions with different daily average temperatures: a forested river valley and an adjacent open tundra (altitudinal difference 180 m). Genetic analysis of V. ditricha isolates was done using random amplified microsatellite polymerase chain reaction. We found that host genotypes, along with prevailing environmental conditions, influence the probability of infection by particular endophyte genotypes. The most susceptible host genotypes were highly infected with genetically similar endophyte genotypes, whereas the most resistant trees were poorly infected and they were infected by genetically dissimilar endophytes. Our results also showed environment-host genotype interactions, suggesting that the susceptibility of the host to a particular endophyte genotype may change in natural environments when environmental conditions are changed. It appears that a particular endophyte genotype needs to find the right host genotype for a successful infection. There are many host genotypes in natural stands; this means, from the point of view of the fungus, the environment is heterogeneous. Thus, under the influence of birch tree genotypes, genetically differentiated subgroups of the endophytic fungus may be formed in different environments.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Environmental variation, such as an increase of mean temperature due to the greenhouse effect, as well as the genetic factors may affect the allergenicity of pollen and thus, the prevalence of allergies. The connection between these factors and the allergen content of pollen is poorly understood.
To evaluate the role of environmental and genetic factors on the allergenicity of birch pollen.
Mountain birch (Betula pubescens ssp. czerepanovii (Orl.) Hämet-Ahti) pollen was studied using SDS-PAGE and IgE-immunoblotting. Pollen samples were collected from the trees of 10 half-sib families. The study trees from each family were reared in two tree line gardens where the daily mean temperatures were different during the growing season.
The quantitative analysis of band intensities suggested that the responses of the major birch pollen allergen, Bet v 1, were stronger in the samples collected from the garden with higher daily mean temperature. Half-sib families and individual trees differed in their Bet v 1 content.
Our results show that both genetic and environmental factors have an effect on the amount of Bet v 1. This suggests that breeding for trees low in allergen content may be possible.