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EVALUATING THE ENDOPHYTIC FUNGAL COMMUNITY IN PLANTED AND WILD RUBBER TREES (Hevea brasiliensis)
Gazis, Romina O.
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The main objectives of this dissertation project were to characterize and compare the fungal endophytic communities associated with rubber trees (Hevea brasiliensis) distributed in wild habitats and under plantations. This study recovered an extensive number of isolates (more than 2,500) from a large sample size (190 individual trees) distributed in diverse regions (various locations in Peru, Cameroon, and Mexico). Molecular and classic taxonomic tools were used to identify, quantify, describe, and compare the diversity of the different assemblages. Innovative phylogenetic analyses for species delimitation were superimposed with ecological data to recognize operational taxonomic units (OTUs) or "putative species" within commonly found species complexes, helping in the detection of meaningful differences between tree populations. Sapwood and leaf fragments showed high infection frequency, but sapwood was inhabited by a significantly higher number of species. More than 700 OTUs were recovered, supporting the hypothesis that tropical fungal endophytes are highly diverse. Furthermore, this study shows that not only leaf tissue can harbor a high diversity of endophytes, but also that sapwood can contain an even more diverse assemblage. Wild and managed habitats presented high species richness of comparable complexity (phylogenetic diversity). Nevertheless, main differences were found in the assemblage's taxonomic composition and frequency of specific strains. Trees growing within their native range were dominated by strains belonging to Trichoderma and even though they were also present in managed trees, plantations trees were dominated by strains of Colletotrichum. Species of Trichoderma are known for their biocontrol properties, whereas species of Colletotrichum have been always associated with plant disease.