The popular forage and turf grass called tall fescue covers a vast amount of land in the U.S. -- an area that's estimated to be larger than Virginia and Maryland combined -- and a new study by ecologists at Rice University and Indiana University suggests there is more to fescue than meets the eye.
Results of the six-year study, which are available online in the Journal of Applied Ecology, show that a symbiotic fungus living inside fescue can have far-reaching effects on plant, animal and insect communities.
"Competition and environment have traditionally been seen as the driving forces for community dynamics, so it's significant to see that the composition and diversity of a plant community can be affected by changing a few genes in an invisible fungus inside one species of grass," said study co-author Jennifer Rudgers, Rice's Godwin Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. "This suggests that cooperative microorganisms should not be overlooked as significant contributors to ecological diversity."
Tall fescue is hearty, low-maintenance and stays green year-round, which makes it a favorite for home lawns, golf courses and highway rights-of-way across the U.S. But fescue, which is native to Europe and North Africa, can also be highly invasive in North America. It can also sicken livestock, thanks to a symbiotic fungus called Neotyphodium coenophialum. The fungus and fescue have a mutually beneficial relationship. The fungus lives inside the plant, where it gets shelter and food, and in return it laces the plant's leaves with toxic alkaloids that are a turnoff to some plant-eating animals.
In 2002, Rudgers and Indiana University ecologist Keith Clay, a study co-author, selected 42 grassland plots, each about 1,000 square feet, at the Indiana University Research and Teaching Preserve north of Bloomington, Ind. The researchers selected two varieties of fescue called Georgia-5 and Jesup, and two varieties of the fungus, called KY-31 and AR-542. KY-31 is a common variety that produces alkaloids that are toxic to mammals, and AR-542 naturally lacks these alkaloids. Additionally, some plots were planted with grass and no fungus.
Over the next six years, the team returned to the plots several times. The investigation was painstaking. In randomly selected areas, the researchers counted individual flowers, cataloged the number and species of every plant and even counted the number of stems of grass that had been gnawed by plant-eating voles.
The investigation offered specific results for conservation managers: Jesup with either fungus works best for maintaining a fescue monoculture; and if a symbiotic fungus is desirable, the combination of Georgia-5 and AR-542 supports maximum plant diversity and minimal invasiveness.
The study also suggested that the ecological effects of plant-microbe symbiosis aren't easy to predict. For example, the researchers found that voles were less likely to eat fescue that contained either fungus, including the AR-542 variety, which lacks mammal-toxic alkaloids.
"That indicates that plant-microbe symbioses have complex ecological effects," said Clay, professor of biology and director of the Indiana University Research and Teaching Preserve. "It signals the need for more investigations of the long-term effects of cooperative symbiosis."
Indiana University undergraduate Susan Fischer also co-authored the study. The research was sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Indiana University Research and Teaching Preserve.
Jade Boyd | EurekAlert!
Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung
High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.
In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...
'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.
Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine
21.10.2016 | Information Technology
21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences