Title: Does host outcrossing disrupt compatibility with heritable symbionts?

16 January 2019

Sneck, Michelle; Rudgers, Jennifer; Young, Carolyn; Miller, Tom

Vertically transmitted microbes are common in macro-organisms and can enhance host defense against environmental stress. Because vertical transmission couples host and symbiont lineages, symbionts may become specialized to host species or genotypes. Specialization and contrasting reproductive modes of symbiotic partners could create incompatibilities between inherited symbionts and novel host genotypes when hosts outcross or hybridize. Such incompatibilities could manifest as failed colonization or poor symbiont growth in host offspring that are genetically dissimilar from their maternal host. Moreover, outcrossing between host species could influence both host and symbiont reproductive performance. We tested these hypotheses by manipulating outcrossing between populations and species of two grasses (Elymus virginicus, E. canadensis) that host vertically transmitted fungal endophytes (genus Epichloё). In both greenhouse and field settings, we found that host-symbiont compatibility was robust to variation in host genetic background, spanning within-population, between-population, and between-species crosses. Symbiont transmission into the F1 generation was generally high and weakly affected by host outcrossing. Furthermore, endophytes grew equally well in planta regardless of host genetic background and transmitted at high rates into the F2 generation. However, outcrossing, especially inter-specific hybridization, reduced reproductive fitness of the host, and thereby the symbiont. Our results challenge the hypothesis that host genetic recombination, which typically exceeds that of symbionts, is a disruptive force in grass-endophyte symbioses. Instead, symbionts may be sufficiently generalized to tolerate ecologically realistic variation in host outcrossing.