Endophytic fungi inhabit the living tissue of a host plant for at least a portion of their life cycle. While some researchers have shown that various endophytic fungi participate in litter decomposition, we do not know whether such fungi are actually saprotrophic, meaning that they can obtain energy from litter. Therefore, I determined if endophytic fungi are saprotrophs using leaf litter as the energy source. All 49 tested isolates were found to be saprotrophic. To compare the saprotrophic capacities of fungi from different habitats, which produce different types of litter, a universal litter proxy needs to be used. I hypothesized that pure cellulose would be an adequate proxy for litter for in vitro studies because of its abundance in litter. This was tested in the first study. Saprotrophic capacity on pure cellulose was not highly correlated with that on leaf litter. I conclude, therefore, that cellulose may not be a good proxy for leaf litter. Some endophytic fungi are biotrophs, presumably acquiring energy from photosynthate produced by the host plant. This suggests that the level of exposure to sunlight by the plant should influence the competitive ability of such fungi. If saprotrophic endophytic fungi do exist, they ought to be less competitive against biotrophic endophytic fungi in leaves receiving full sunlight than in shaded leaves. I, therefore, hypothesized that the frequency of saprotrophy will be influenced by the level of sun exposure of the leaf from which the fungi were isolated. This was tested in the second study. Moreover, because closely related organisms ought to be more similar to each other than more distantly related organisms, I also hypothesized that saprotrophic capacity has a strong phylogenetic component, which was also tested in the second study. Unexpectedly, isolate identity within genus accounted for far more variability in saprotrophic capacity than genus identity, and sun exposure did not have a significant effect on saprotrophy. These results suggest that saprotrophic capacity may not be highly consequential in the ecology of these organisms.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Biology



Date Submitted


Document Type





biotrophy, cellulose, decomposition, endophytic fungi, in vitro methods, litter, saprotrophic capacity, saprotrophy.



Included in

Life Sciences Commons