Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Grass, fungus combination affects ecology

Date:
March 20, 2010
Source:
Rice University
Summary:
Fescue grass covers an area equivalent to 12 million football fields in the US, and a new study by ecologists shows that the grass and a symbiotic fungus can affect local ecosystems in significant ways. Study results show that the genetic identity of an invisible fungus living symbiotically in fescue can alter the surrounding composition and diversity of the plant community.

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.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Rice University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Rice University. "Grass, fungus combination affects ecology." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 March 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100315162203.htm>.
Rice University. (2010, March 20). Grass, fungus combination affects ecology. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100315162203.htm
Rice University. "Grass, fungus combination affects ecology." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100315162203.htm (accessed September 17, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) The South's tobacco country is surviving, and even thriving in some cases, as demand overseas keeps growers in the fields of one of America's oldest cash crops. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

AFP (Sep. 16, 2014) Scientists say a female colossal squid weighing an estimated 350 kilograms (770 lbs) and thought to be only the second intact specimen ever found was carrying eggs when discovered in the Antarctic. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) Squid experts in New Zealand thawed and examined an unusual catch on Tuesday: a colossal squid. It was captured in Antarctica's remote Ross Sea in December last year and has been frozen for eight months. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ivorians Abandon Monkey Pets in Fear Over Ebola Virus

Ivorians Abandon Monkey Pets in Fear Over Ebola Virus

AFP (Sep. 16, 2014) Since the arrival of Ebola in Ivory Coast, Ivorians have been abandoning their pets, particularly monkeys, in the fear that they may transmit the virus. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

      Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile: iPhone Android Web
      Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins