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Tree Endophytes: Cryptic Drivers of Tropical Forest Diversity

  • Eric A. Griffin
  • Walter P. Carson
Chapter
Part of the Forestry Sciences book series (FOSC, volume 86)

Abstract

Roots and leaves comprise two of the largest microbial habitats on Earth, particularly in tropical forests where root and leaf surface areas are extremely high and microbes are abundant and diverse. Fungal and bacterial endophytes are primarily acquired via contagious spread from the surrounding environment. The soil is an important reservoir for both fungal and bacterial endophytes; we term this a soil microbial bank and suggest that it functions similarly to a soil seed bank. Because most (~75%) studies have found a strong positive relationship between plant diversity and soil microbial diversity, we predict that as plant diversity increases so will endophyte taxonomic and functional diversity. Once inside plant host tissues, endophytes can act as mutualists and increase plant performance directly by producing plant hormones, or indirectly by decreasing fungal or insect damage by up to 80%. Recent studies, however, have demonstrated that there are costs associated with hosting “beneficial” endophytes for tropical trees. This is important because it challenges more traditional dichotomies (e.g., beneficial or deleterious) about endophytes and suggests that there are highly complex and context-dependent trade-offs and costs involved in plant-endophyte interactions. Though they comprise a cryptic component of tropical forests, plant-microbe interactions may typically regulate tree diversity, composition, and forest function at neighborhood and even regional scales. For example, pathogens may maintain tree diversity by reducing the fitness of common species in areas where plant host density is high or where hosts are close to reproductive conspecific adults. Moreover, plant-endophyte interactions, whether pathogenic or mutualistic, may comprise an entirely novel dimension of niche differentiation for coexisting tree species. Overall, tree endophytes in tropical forests are complex, yet critical drivers of forest dynamics and function.

Notes

Acknowledgements

We thank Melissa McCormick, Dennis Whigham, and Natalie Christian for helpful discussions over the course of this work and comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript. We like to thank Allen Herre and Betsy Arnold in particular for extensive help and comments during the course of this work. Moreover, we thank Betsy Arnold and Francois Lutzoni for permission to use Fig. 1. We acknowledge financial support from the National Science Foundation, the University of Pittsburgh, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Sigma Xi, and the American Philosophical Society.

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© This chapter is a U.S. Government work and not under copyright protection in the US; foreign copyright protection may apply 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Smithsonian Environmental Research CenterEdgewaterUSA
  2. 2.University of PittsburghPittsburghUSA

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