Diversity of fungal endophytes in non-native Phragmites australis in the Great Lakes.
Plant-microbial interactions may play a key role in plant invasions. One common microbial interaction takes place between plants and fungal endophytes when fungi asymptomatically colonize host plant tissues. The objectives of this study were to isolate and sequence fungal endophytes colonizing non-native Phragmites australis in the Great Lakes region to evaluate variation in endophyte community composition among three host tissue types and three geographical regions. We collected entire ramets from multiple clones and populations, surface sterilized plant tissues, and plated replicate tissue samples from leaves, stems, and rhizomes on corn meal agar plates to culture and isolate fungal endophytes. Isolates were then subjected to Sanger sequencing of the ITS region of the nuclear ribosomal DNA. Sequences were compared to fungal databases to define operational taxonomic units (OTUs) that were analyzed statistically for community composition. In total, we obtained 173 endophyte isolates corresponding to 55 OTUs, 39 of which were isolated only a single time. The most common OTU corresponded most closely to Sarocladium strictum and comprised 25% of all fungal isolates. More OTUs were found in stem tissues, but endophyte diversity was greatest in rhizome tissues. PERMANOVA analyses indicated significant differences in endophyte communities among tissue types, geographical regions, and the interaction between those factors, but no differences among individual ramets were detected. The functional role of the isolated endophytes is not yet known, but one genus isolated here (Stagonospora) has been reported to enhance Phragmites growth. Understanding the diversity and functions of Phragmites endophytes may provide targets for control measures based on disrupting host plant/endophyte interactions.