Year of Publication

2018

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Document Type

Master's Thesis

College

Agriculture, Food and Environment

Department

Plant and Soil Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Rebecca McCulley

Abstract

The relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning is important in maintaining agroecosystem sustainability. Plant-microbe symbioses, such as exists between the grass tall fescue (Schedonorus arundinaceum) and the asexual fungal endophyte Epichloë coenophiala, can be utilized to enhance agroecosystem functions, such as herbivore resistance. “Novel” E. coenophiala strains that vary in the production of mammal- and insect-toxic compounds have been identified, inserted into tall fescue cultivars, and are planted in pastures globally. Novel fungal endophyte-tall fescue associations may have divergent ecosystem function effects. This study assessed effects of different fescue-endophyte symbiotic combinations on pasture ecosystem function, including aboveground (fescue biomass, plant species richness, alkaloid synthesis, arthropod abundance) and belowground (soil microbial biomass, soil enzyme activity, trace gas fluxes) parameters. Results showed no significant effects of increasing symbiotic diversity within a fescue stand on aboveground measurements, bar arthropod abundance and alkaloid synthesis. Most soil parameters quantified had significant symbiotic diversity effects. For example, soil microbial biomass decreased whereas soil enzyme activity increased with increasing symbiotic diversity. Overall, our results suggested that increasing symbiotic diversity had weak to moderate effects on aboveground processes and stronger effects on certain belowground processes, indicating that symbiotic diversity can impact ecosystem functions and warrants further research.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.13023/etd.2018.275

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