Loss of fungal symbionts at the arid limit of the distribution range in a native Patagonian grass—Resource eco-physiological relations

Cecilia Casas, Pedro E. Gundel, Eluney Deliens, Leopoldo J. Iannone, Guillermo García Martinez, María V. Vignale, Hans Schnyder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Crucial to our understanding of plant ecology is the consideration of the eco-physiological responses and constraints of plant–fungal symbioses throughout the native distribution range of their host. We examined key eco-physiological roles of two co-occurring fungal symbionts [Epichloë endophytes and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF)] in the endemic grass Hordeum comosum across a wide bioclimatic gradient and contrasting grazing severity. We sampled H. comosum plants along four humid-to-arid transects in Patagonia, Argentina, covering its entire distribution range and determined Epichloë presence, AMF root colonization, nitrogen and phosphorus concentration, intrinsic water-use efficiency (iWUE, the ratio of photosynthesis to stomatal conductance) and 18O-enrichment of cellulose in shoots. Root colonization by AMF increased with Epichloë presence. All plants hosted Epichloë in the humid range of the gradient, but symbioses occurrence decreased towards arid sites which also displayed severe grazing symptoms at site level. Symbiosis with Epichloë correlated positively with shoot nitrogen concentration in the centre of the distribution range, and with shoot phosphorus concentration across the entire distribution range. The site-level relationship of AMF colonization with 18O-enrichment and iWUE suggested that mycorrhiza boosted stomatal conductance in humid environments but curbed it in arid environments. While the interpretation of interactions and potential causalities from observational studies should be done with caution, this study demonstrates distinct correlations between plant–fungal symbiont associations and key resource parameters (phosphorus, nitrogen and iWUE vs. 18O-enrichment). Such correlations may suggest particular functional roles for these symbionts in the ecology of their host plant. A free Plain Language Summary can be found within the Supporting Information of this article.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)583-594
Number of pages12
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • Epichloë and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi
  • arid-to-humid gradients
  • carbon and oxygen isotopic composition
  • grazing severity
  • intrinsic water-use efficiency (iWUE)
  • non-pathogenic symbioses
  • nutrient relations
  • stomatal conductance


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