Epichloë is a genus of ascomycete fungi forming an endophytic symbiosis with grasses. Grass choke disease is a symptom in grasses induced by some Epichloë species, which form spore-bearing mats (stromata) on tillers and suppress the development of their host plant's inflorescence. For most of their life cycle however, Epichloë grow in the intercellular space of stems, leaves, inflorescences, and seeds of the grass plant without incurring symptoms of disease. In fact, they provide several benefits to their host, including the production of different herbivore-deterring alkaloids, increased stress resistance, and growth promotion.
Within the family Clavicipitaceae, Epichloë is embedded in a group of endophytic and plant pathogenic fungi, whose common ancestor probably derived from an animal pathogen. The genus includes both species with a sexually reproducing (teleomorphic) stage and asexual, anamorphic species. The latter were previously placed in the form genus Neotyphodium but included in Epichloë after molecular phylogenetics had shown asexual and sexual species to be intermingled in a single clade. Hybrid speciation has played an important role in the evolution of the genus.
Epichloë species are ecologically significant through their effects on host plants. Their presence has been shown to alter the composition of plant communities and food webs. Grass varieties, especially of tall fescue and ryegrass, with symbiotic Epichloë endophyte strains, are commercialised and used for pasture and turf.
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