Year of Publication

2014

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Agriculture, Food and Environment

Department

Plant and Soil Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. David H. McNear

Second Advisor

Dr. Timothy Phillips

Abstract

Tall fescue (Lolium arundinaceum (Schreb.) Darbysh.) is a cool-season perennial grass used in pastures throughout the Southeastern United States. The grass can harbor a fungal endophyte (Epichloë coenophiala) thought to provide the plant with enhanced resistance to biotic and abiotic stress. However, the alkaloids produced by the common variety of the endophyte cause severe animal health issues resulting in a considerable amount of research focused on eliminating the toxic class of alkaloids while retaining the positive abiotic and biotic stress tolerance attributes of the other alkaloids. In doing so, very little attention has been paid to the direct influence the fungal-plant symbiosis has on rhizosphere processes. Therefore, my objectives were to study the influence of this relationship on plant biomass production, root exudate composition, and soil biogeochemical processes using tall fescue cultivars PDF and 97TF1 without an endophyte (E-), or infected with the common toxic endophyte (CTE+), or with two novel endophytes (AR542E+, AR584E+). I found that root exudate composition and plant biomass production were influenced by endophyte status, tall fescue cultivar, and the interaction of cultivar and endophyte. Cluster analysis showed that the interaction between endophyte and cultivar results in a unique exudate profile. These interactions had a small but perceptible impact on soil microbial community structure and function with an equally small and perceptible impact on carbon and nitrogen cycling in soils from rhizobox and field sites. These studies represent the first comprehensive analysis of root exudate chemistry from common toxic and novel endophyte infected tall fescue cultivars and can be used to help explain in part the observed changes in C and N cycling and storage in pastures throughout the Southeast U.S..

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