Competitive outcomes among plants can vary in different abiotic and biotic conditions. Here we tested the effects of two phylotypes of Alternaria endophytes on the growth, competitive effects, and competitive responses of the exotic invasive forb Centaurea stoebe. Centaurea stoebe was a better competitor against North American grass species than grasses from its European home range in the absence of endophytes. However, one endophyte both increased the biomass of C. stoebe and reduced the competitive effect of North American grasses on C. stoebe. The competitive effects of C. stoebe on grass species native to North America were enhanced by both fungal endophytes, but not for native European grasses. We do not know the mechanism by which endophytes increased C. stoebe's competitive ability, and particularly against biogeographically new neighbors, but one endophyte increased the competitive ability of C. stoebe without increasing its size, suggesting mechanisms unrelated to increased growth. We tested only a fraction of the different endophytic fungi that have been found in C. stoebe, only scratching the surface of understanding their indirect effects. However, our results are the first to demonstrate such effects of a fungal endophyte infecting an invasive forb, and one of the few to show that endophyte effects on competition do not have to be mediated through herbivory.
Copyright 2012 by the Ecological Society of America. Erik T. Aschehoug, Kerry L. Metlen, Ragan M. Callaway, and George Newcombe 2012. Fungal Endophytes Directly Increase the Competitive Effects of an Invasive Forb. Ecology 93: 3-8. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/11-1347.1.