Isolating microbes is vital to study microbiomes, but insights into microbial diversity and ecology can be constrained by recalcitrant or unculturable strains. Culture-free methods (e.g., next-generation sequencing, NGS) have become popular in part because they detect greater richness than culturing alone. Both approaches are used widely to characterize microfungi within healthy leaves (foliar endophytes), but methodological differences among studies can constrain large-scale insights into endophyte ecology. We examined endophytes in a temperate plant community to quantify how certain methodological factors, such as the choice of cultivation media for culturing and storage period after leaf collection, affect inferences regarding endophyte communities; how such effects vary among plant taxa; and how complementary culturing and NGS can be when subsets of the same plant tissue are used for each. We found that endophyte richness and composition from culturing were consistent across five media types. Insights from culturing and NGS were largely robust to differences in storage period (1, 5, and 10 days). Although endophyte richness, composition, and taxonomic diversity identified via culturing vs. NGS differed markedly, both methods revealed host-structured communities. Studies differing only in cultivation media or storage period thus can be compared to estimate endophyte richness, composition, and turnover at scales larger than those of individual studies alone. Our data show that it is likely more important to sample more host species, rather than sampling fewer species more intensively, to quantify endophyte diversity in given locations, with the richest insights into endophyte ecology emerging when culturing and NGS are paired.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Soil Science