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Microb Ecol. 2015 Jul;70(1):61-76. doi: 10.1007/s00248-014-0563-6. Epub 2015 Feb 3.

Fungal endophytes in aboveground tissues of desert plants: infrequent in culture, but highly diverse and distinctive symbionts.

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School of Plant Sciences, The University of Arizona, 1140 E. South Campus Drive, Forbes 303, Tucson, AZ, 85721, USA.


In hot deserts, plants cope with aridity, high temperatures, and nutrient-poor soils with morphological and biochemical adaptations that encompass intimate microbial symbioses. Whereas the root microbiomes of arid-land plants have received increasing attention, factors influencing assemblages of symbionts in aboveground tissues have not been evaluated for many woody plants that flourish in desert environments. We evaluated the diversity, host affiliations, and distributions of endophytic fungi associated with photosynthetic tissues of desert trees and shrubs, focusing on nonsucculent woody plants in the species-rich Sonoran Desert. To inform our strength of inference, we evaluated the effects of two different nutrient media, incubation temperatures, and collection seasons on the apparent structure of endophyte assemblages. Analysis of >22,000 tissue segments revealed that endophytes were isolated four times more frequently from photosynthetic stems than leaves. Isolation frequency was lower than expected given the latitude of the study region and varied among species a function of sampling site and abiotic factors. However, endophytes were very species-rich and phylogenetically diverse, consistent with less arid sites of a similar latitudinal position. Community composition differed among host species, but not as a function of tissue type, sampling site, sampling month, or exposure. Estimates of abundance, diversity, and composition were not influenced by isolation medium or incubation temperature. Phylogenetic analyses of the most commonly isolated genus (Preussia) revealed multiple evolutionary origins of desert-plant endophytism and little phylogenetic structure with regard to seasonality, tissue preference, or optimal temperatures and nutrients for growth in vitro. Together, these results provide insight into endophytic symbioses in desert-plant communities and can be used to optimize strategies for capturing endophyte biodiversity at regional scales.

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