Understanding factors that affect the context dependency of species interactions has been identified as a critical research area in ecology. The presence of symbionts in host plants can be an important factor influencing the outcome of plant-insect interactions. Similarly, herbivore identity can alter the outcome of plant-symbiont interactions. Symbiotic foliar fungal endophytes confer resistance to herbivores in economically important agronomic grasses, in part through the production of alkaloids. Although endophytes are common in nature, relatively little is known about their effects on herbivores of native, wild grass species, and a recent meta-analysis suggested that endophytes are only beneficial in agronomic settings. In this study, we performed choice trials for five insect species and a greenhouse experiment with one species to assess effects of the fungal endophyte Neotyphodium sp. on herbivores of the wild grass Festuca subverticillata. In feeding trials, endophyte presence altered the preference of all five insect species tested. However, the magnitude and direction of preference varied among species, with Pterophylla camellifolia (F.), Spodoptera frugiperda (J. E. Smith), and Rhopalosiphum padi L. preferring endophyte-disinfected plants and Encoptolophus costalis (Scudder) and Romalea guttata (Houttuyn) preferring endophyte-symbiotic plants. Despite reducing insect preference, the endophyte had no significant effect on S. frugiperda performance in a no-choice greenhouse experiment and did not increase plant growth in response to this herbivore. Our results show that endophyte-mediated resistance to herbivory depends strongly on herbivore identity and suggest that the fitness consequences of endophyte symbiosis for host plants will be context dependent on the local composition of insect herbivores.
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