Fungal endophyte infection increases tall fescue's survival, growth, and flowering in a reconstructed prairie

Jonathan D. Moore, Anna E. Carlisle, Jim A. Nelson, Rebecca L. McCulley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Grasslands in North America are increasingly threatened by land conversion and ecological degradation, prompting restoration efforts to increase native plant species diversity and improve wildlife habitat. A major challenge is the removal and management of nonnative invasive species such as tall fescue (Schedonorus arundinaceus), which has a symbiotic association with a fungal endophyte (Epichloë coenophiala) that modifies its ecological interactions. Using transplanted clumps of the cultivar Kentucky-31, we tested the effects of endophyte infection on tall fescue's survival and performance (tiller production, flowering, and basal area) for 5 years in a central Kentucky reconstructed prairie. We predicted that endophyte infected (E+) clumps would have increased performance compared to endophyte-free (E−) clumps. Overall, E+ clumps had greater survival, tiller production, flowering tiller production, and basal area, but not reproductive effort (proportion of tillers flowering) as compared to E− clumps. However, survival and trends in tiller number and basal area over the 5-year period suggested experimental tall fescue populations were in decline in the reconstructed prairie, although the E− population declined more rapidly. Our study provides evidence that endophyte infection improved tall fescue's growth and survival in a postreconstruction plant community, at least in the early years following reconstruction, and may increase the invasive potential of this nonnative species in prairie restorations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1000-1007
Number of pages8
JournalRestoration Ecology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by grants to RLM (USDA-NIFA Precision Agriculture: Precision Resource Management Award #2010-34628-21691 and USDA-ARS Forage Animal Production Research Unit Specific Cooperative Agreement 58-6440-7-135) and funds from the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station (KY006045). We appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, made possible through the efforts of Naturalists Don Pelly and Ben Leffew. We appreciate and acknowledge the time and effort of a multitude of students who assisted with the project, including Dawn DeColibus, Dan Weber, Marie Bourguignon, Ellen Green, Bridget Reed, and Pierre Mas. We also thank Eric Roemmele, Kristen McQuery, and Yue Cui for statistical assistance, Tim Phillips for plant material, and Stuart Allison and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and suggestions.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Society for Ecological Restoration


  • Epichloë coenophiala
  • Festuca arundinacea
  • Kentucky-31
  • Neotyphodium coenophialum
  • Schenodorus phoenix
  • invasive species
  • prairie restoration
  • tall fescue

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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