Emerging fungal pathogen of an invasive grass - Implications for competition with native plant species


Infectious diseases and invasive species can be strong drivers of biological systems that may interact to shift plant community composition. For example, disease can modify resource competition between invasive and native species. Invasive species tend to interact with a diversity of native species, and it is unclear how native species differ in response to disease-mediated competition with invasive species. Here, we quantified the biomass responses of three native North American grass species (Dichanthelium clandestinum, Elymus virginicus, and Eragrostis spectabilis) to disease-mediated competition with the non-native invasive grass Microstegium vimineum. The foliar fungal pathogen Bipolaris gigantea has recently emerged in Microstegium populations, causing a leaf spot disease that reduces Microstegium biomass and seed production. In a greenhouse experiment, we examined the effects of B. gigantea inoculation on two components of competitive ability for each native species – growth in the absence of competition and biomass responses to increasing densities of Microstegium. Bipolaris gigantea inoculation affected each of the three native species in unique ways, by increasing (Dichanthelium), decreasing (Elymus), or not changing (Eragrostis) their growth in the absence of competition relative to mock inoculation. Bipolaris gigantea inoculation did not, however, affect Microstegium biomass or mediate the effect of Microstegium density on native plant biomass. Thus, B. gigantea had species-specific effects on native plant competition with Microstegium through species-specific biomass responses to B. gigantea inoculation, but not through modified responses to Microstegium density. Our results suggest that disease may uniquely modify competitive interactions between invasive and native plants for different native plant species.

PLoS ONE, 16(e0237894)
Amy E. Kendig
Amy E. Kendig
Postdoctoral Researcher

ecologist and data scientist specializing in human impacts in plant communities