Leaf endophytic fungus interacts with precipitation to alter belowground microbial communities in primary successional dunes

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Understanding interactions between above- and belowground components of ecosystems is an important next step in community ecology. These interactions may be fundamental to predicting ecological responses to global change because indirect effects occurring through altered species interactions can outweigh or interact with the direct effects of environmental drivers. In a multiyear field experiment (2010-2015), we tested how experimental addition of a mutualistic leaf endophyte (Epichloë amarillans) associated with American beachgrass (Ammophila breviligulata) interacted with an altered precipitation regime (±30%) to affect the belowground microbial community. Epichloë addition increased host root biomass at the plot scale, but reduced the length of extraradical arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungal hyphae in the soil. Under ambient precipitation alone, the addition of Epichloë increased root biomass per aboveground tiller and reduced the diversity of AM fungi in A. breviligulata roots. Furthermore, with Epichloë added, the diversity of root-associated bacteria declined with higher soil moisture, whereas in its absence, bacterial diversity increased with higher soil moisture. Thus, the aboveground fungal mutualist not only altered the abundance and composition of belowground microbial communities but also affected how belowground communities responded to climate, suggesting that aboveground microbes have potential for cascading influences on community dynamics and ecosystem processes that occur belowground.

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