Utilizing Grass-Endophyte Technology to Improve Pasture Soil Health and Resilience to Climate Change Stressors

Grants and Contracts Details


Plant-microbe symbioses can be important in governing ecosystem response to climate change. They are also increasingly being explored for novel agricultural management applications aimed at improving production resilience and sustainability. One example occurs with tall fescue (Schedonorus arundinaceus), a predominant cool season forage in managed grasslands of the eastern U.S., and its leaf fungal endophyte (Epichloë coenophiala). Infection with the common toxic strain of Epichloë improves fescue's ability to resist environmental stressors, including drought and other likely impacts of climate change, and endophyte infection can increase soil C sequestration, modify greenhouse gas fluxes, and alter soil microbial community composition and function (i.e., modify soil health). However, toxic alkaloids produced by this strain of the endophyte negatively affect animal production, and have led to the inoculation of fescue with "non-mammal-toxic" strains. Whether these non-toxic endophytes confer a similar level of environmental stress resistance is unknown, as are their effects on soil health. To address this knowledge gap, we will leverage two existing field projects to accomplish the following objectives: (i) Quantify how farmer adoption of different fescue-endophyte symbiotic material will affect fescue root fungal symbionts and overall pasture production resilience and forage quality under warmer and drier conditions; and (ii) Determine whether increasing fescue-endophyte symbiotic diversity alters pasture soil health. The proposed work will allow us to assess whether grass-endophyte technology can be utilized to improve the resilience and soil health of fescue pastures, the base of animal production for much of the eastern US.
Effective start/end date3/15/173/14/23


  • National Institute of Food and Agriculture: $500,000.00


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