Characterization of the fungal community in the canopy air of the invasive plant Ageratina adenophora and its potential to cause plant diseases.
Airborne fungi and their ecological functions have been largely ignored in plant invasions. In this study, high-throughput sequencing technology was used to characterize the airborne fungi in the canopy air of the invasive weed Ageratina adenophora. Then, representative phytopathogenic strains were isolated from A. adenophora leaf spots and their virulence to A. adenophora as well as common native plants in the invaded range was tested. The fungal alpha diversities were not different between the sampling sites or between the high/low part of the canopy air, but fungal co-occurrences were less common in the high than in the low part of the canopy air. Interestingly, we found that the phytopathogenic Didymellaceae fungi co-occurred more frequently with themselves than with other fungi. Disease experiments indicated that all 5 Didymellaceae strains could infect A. adenophora as well as the 16 tested native plants and that there was large variation in the virulence and host range. Our data suggested that the diverse pathogens in the canopy air might be a disease infection source that weakens the competition of invasive weeds, a novel phenomenon that remains to be explored in other.