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    When symbionts are inherited by offspring, they can have substantial ecological and evolutionary consequences because they occur in all host life stages. Although natural frequencies of inherited symbionts are commonly <100 %, few studies investigate the ecological drivers of variation in symbiont prevalence. In plants, inherited fungal endophytes can improve resistance to herbivory, growth under drought, and competitive ability. We evaluated whether native ungulate herbivory increased the prevalence of a fungal endophyte in the common, native bunchgrass, Festuca campestris (rough fescue, Poaceae). We used large-scale (1 ha) and long-term (7-10 year) fencing treatments to exclude native ungulates and recorded shifts in endophyte prevalence at the scale of plant populations and for individual plants. We characterized the fungal endophyte in F. campestris, Epichloë species FcaTG-1 (F. campestris taxonomic group 1) for the first time. Under ungulate exclusion, endophyte prevalence was 19 % lower in plant populations, 25 % lower within plant individuals, and 39 % lower in offspring (seeds) than in ungulate-exposed controls. Population-level endophyte frequencies were also negatively correlated with soil moisture across geographic sites. Observations of high within-plant variability in symbiont prevalence are novel for the Epichloë species, and contribute to a small, but growing, literature that documents phenotypic plasticity in plant-endophyte symbiota. Altogether, we show that native ungulates can be an important driver of symbiont prevalence in native plant populations, even in the absence of evidence for direct mechanisms of mammal deterrence. Understanding the ecological controls on symbiont prevalence could help to predict future shifts in grasslands that are dominated by Epichloë host plants.

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    Rudgers, Jennifer A.; Fletcher, Rebecca A.; Olivas, Eric; Young, Carolyn A.; Charlton, Nikki D.; Pearson, Dean E.; Maron, John L. 2016. Long‑term ungulate exclusion reduces fungal symbiont prevalence in native grasslands. Oecologia. 181: 1151-1161.


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    Epichloë, epidemiology, Festuca, herbivory, mutualism

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