Effects of endophytic fungi on the ash dieback pathogen

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While Hymenoscyphus fraxineus causes dieback of the European ash (Fraxinus excelsior), flowering ash (F. ornus) appears resistant to the pathogen. To date, contributions of endophytic fungi to host resistance are unknown. The following hypotheses were tested: (i) endophytic fungi enhance the resistance of F. excelsior to the pathogen; (ii) resistance of F. ornus relies on its community of endophytic fungi. Two experiments were performed. (i) The effect of exudates of ash endophytes on the germination rate of H. fraxineus ascospores was studied in vitro. Isolates of abundant Fraxinus leaf endophytes, such as Venturia fraxini, Paraconiothyrium sp., Boeremia exigua, Kretzschmaria deusta and Neofabraea alba inhibited ascospore germination. (ii) Ash seedlings inoculated in a climate chamber, with fungi sporulating on the previous year's leaf litter, were exposed to natural infections by the pathogen present in the forest. Non-inoculated seedlings were used as controls. Venturia spp. dominated the inoculated endophyte ‘communities’. Subsequent exposure to H. fraxineus led to infection of F. excelsior leaves by the pathogen, but no differences in health status between pre-inoculated and non-inoculated seedlings were detected. Fraxinus ornus leaves experienced a low infection rate, independent of their colonization by endophytic fungi. These results did not support either hypothesis.

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