Biotic and abiotic predictors of fungal colonization in grasses of the Colorado Rockies

Luciana B. Ranelli, Will Q. Hendricks, Joshua S. Lynn, Stephanie N. Kivlin, Jennifer A. Rudgers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Fungal symbionts are ubiquitous in plants and can mitigate abiotic stressors associated with climate change. Predicting fungal symbiont distributions under future climates first requires knowledge of current distributions and their potential drivers.

We documented colonization by fungal symbionts in perennial, cool-season grasses along altitudinal gradients in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA.

Across seven replicate altitudinal gradients, spanning c. 1400 vertical meters, we scored fungal colonization for 46 grass species. We documented altitudinal clines in colonization by both above-ground and below-ground fungal symbionts for the first time, including localized foliar endophytes (LFE) and systemic endophytes (epichloae) in leaves and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) and dark septate endophytes (DSE) in roots. For a subset of 16 well-sampled grass species, we used model selection procedures to evaluate the relative importance of geography, edaphic factors and host plant identity. We also assessed the influence of host phylogenetic relatedness and colonization by co-infecting fungi.

Levels of fungal colonization varied strongly with host plant identity, but the effects of particular host species were not consistent across fungal groups. In addition to the influence of host identity, epichloae colonization declined with elevation and varied with geography (latitude/longitude) and edaphic factors. Geography and collection date were important predictors of LFE colonization, with higher colonization later in the growing season. Colonization estimates for the obligately plant-associated fungi (epichloae, AMF) were phylogenetically conserved across the grass supertree. Positive correlations between AMF and DSE, which remained even after accounting for host plant relatedness, suggested possible synergisms between these fungal groups.

Main conclusions
Our survey showed greater host specificity in patterns of fungal colonization than prior reports and revealed that different fungal symbiont groups do not share similar drivers. Conserving plant–fungal symbioses under future climates may require unique strategies for different plant species and fungal symbiont types.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)962-976
Number of pages15
JournalDiversity and Distributions
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2015


  • Climate change
  • distribution model
  • endophyte
  • mycorrhizal fungi
  • plant-fungal interactions
  • symbiosis


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