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Fungal-mediated multitrophic interactions - do grass endophytes in diet protect voles from predators?

Saari, Susanna; Sundell, Janne; Huitu, Otso; Helander, Marjo; Ketoja, Elise; Ylönen, Hannu and Saikkonen, Kari (2010) Fungal-mediated multitrophic interactions - do grass endophytes in diet protect voles from predators? PLOSone, 5 (3).

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Document available online at: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0009845


Plant-associated micro-organisms such as mycotoxin-producing endophytes commonly have direct negative effects on herbivores. These effects may be carried over to natural enemies of the herbivores, but this has been rarely explored. We examined how feeding on Neotyphodium endophyte infected (E+) and endophyte free (E−) meadow ryegrass (Scherodonus pratensis) affects body mass, population size and mobility of sibling voles (Microtus levis), and whether the diet mediates the vulnerability of voles to least weasel (Mustela nivalis nivalis) predation. Because least weasels are known to be olfactory hunters, we also examined whether they are able to distinguish olfactory cues of voles fed on E+ and E− diets. Neither body mass of voles nor population size differed between diets. However, contrary to our prediction, least weasels preyed more often on voles fed with E− grass than on voles fed with E+ grass. The mobility of voles fed on E+ grass was reduced compared to voles fed on E− grass, but this effect was unrelated to risk of predation. Least weasels appeared unable to distinguish between excrement odours of voles between the two treatments. Our results suggest that consumption of endophytic grass is not directly deleterious to sibling voles. What's more, consumption of endophytes appears to be advantageous to voles by reducing risk of mammalian predation. Our study is thus the first to demonstrate an effect of plant-associated microbial symbionts on herbivore-predator interactions in vertebrate communities.

EPrint Type:Journal paper
Keywords:grass endophytes, predators, herbivores
Subjects: Crop husbandry > Crop health, quality, protection
Research affiliation: Finland
Deposited By: Koistinen, Riitta
ID Code:17835
Deposited On:07 Oct 2010 07:52
Last Modified:07 Oct 2010 07:52
Document Language:English
Refereed:Peer-reviewed and accepted

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