Purpose: Grass-endophyte and legume-rhizobium symbionts coexist in grasslands. However, the effects of endophyte infection on legume-rhizobium symbionts remain poorly understood, especially in natural grasslands.
Methods: In this study, Achnatherum sibiricum - Epichloë endophytes and Medicago ruthenica -rhizobia were selected as materials to investigate whether and how endophyte infection affected the growth of legume-rhizobia symbionts. It was hypothesized that endophytes can facilitate the coexistence of grass-legume systems.
Results: The results demonstrated that endophyte infection affected the growth of both rhizobia and M. ruthenica -rhizobia symbionts, and the results depended on rhizobial identity. Endophyte infection inhibited the growth of Mesorhizobium ciceri , which significantly promoted the growth of M. ruthenica , and promoted Sinorhizobium meliloti , which had no significant effect on the growth of M. ruthenica . Endophyte infection also changed the interaction between A. sibiricum and M. ruthenica . When inoculated with M. ciceri , endophyte infection weakened the promoting effect of A. sibiricum on M. ruthenica , while when inoculated with S. meliloti , endophyte infection enhanced the promoting effect. Endophyte infection affected the growth of M. ruthenica -rhizobia symbionts by affecting rhizobia abundance in roots and nitrogen content in plant leaves.
Conclusion: In conclusion, endophyte infection was beneficial to biomass accumulation and species coexistence in grass-legume mixed planting systems. In this study, it was proposed that endophyte infection may change the growth of legume-rhizobia symbionts by affecting the growth and nitrogen fixation of rhizobia.