Infection with a Shoot-Specific Fungal Endophyte (Epichloë) Alters Tall Fescue Soil Microbial Communities

Xavier Rojas, Jingqi Guo, Jonathan W. Leff, David H. McNear, Noah Fierer, Rebecca L. McCulley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Tall fescue (Schedonorus arundinaceus) is a widespread grass that can form a symbiotic relationship with a shoot-specific fungal endophyte (Epichloë coenophiala). While the effects of fungal endophyte infection on fescue physiology and ecology have been relatively well studied, less attention has been given to how this relationship may impact the soil microbial community. We used high-throughput DNA sequencing and phospholipid fatty acid analysis to determine the structure and biomass of microbial communities in both bulk and rhizosphere soils from tall fescue stands that were either uninfected with E. coenophiala or were infected with the common toxic strain or one of several novel strains of the endophyte. We found that rhizosphere and bulk soils harbored distinct microbial communities. Endophyte presence, regardless of strain, significantly influenced soil fungal communities, but endophyte effects were less pronounced in prokaryotic communities. E. coenophiala presence did not change total fungal biomass but caused a shift in soil and rhizosphere fungal community composition, increasing the relative abundance of taxa within the Glomeromycota phylum and decreasing the relative abundance of genera in the Ascomycota phylum, including Lecanicillium, Volutella, Lipomyces, Pochonia, and Rhizoctonia. Our data suggests that tripartite interactions exist between the shoot endophyte E. coenophiala, tall fescue, and soil fungi that may have important implications for the functioning of soils, such as carbon storage, in fescue-dominated grasslands.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)197-206
Number of pages10
JournalMicrobial Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Joe Kupper, Jim Nelson, and Elizabeth Carlisle for field assistance, and Tim Phillips for allowing us to sample his grazing trial material. This research was supported by grants from the USDA-NRI (Award #’s 2011-67019-30392 and 2008-35107-04504), a cooperative agreement with the USDA-ARS Forage Animal Production Research Unit (58-6440-7-135), and the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station (KY006045).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Springer Science+Business Media New York.


  • Epichloë coenophiala
  • Mycorrhizae
  • Neotyphodium
  • Plant-microbe interactions
  • Schedonorus arundinaceus
  • Soil microbes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Soil Science


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