Fungal endophyte associations have been suggested as a possible strategy of Antarctic vascular plants for surviving the extreme environmental conditions of Antarctica. However, the mechanisms by which this occurs are still poorly understood. The role of root fungal endophytes in nitrogen mineralization and nutrient uptake, as well as their impact on the performance of Antarctic plants, were studied. We tested root endophytes, isolated from Colobanthus quitensis and Deschampsia antarctica, for lignocellulolytic enzyme production, nitrogen mineralization, and growth enhancement of their host plants. Penicillium chrysogenum and Penicillium brevicompactum were identified using a molecular approach as the main root endophytes inhabiting C. quitensis and D. antarctica, respectively. Both root endophytes were characterized as psychrophilic fungi displaying amylase, esterase, protease, cellulase, hemicellulase, phosphatase and urease enzymatic activities, mainly at 4 °C. Moreover, the rates and percentages of nitrogen mineralization, as well as the final total biomass, were significantly higher in symbiotic C. quitensis and D. antarctica individuals. Our findings suggest that root endophytes exert a pivotal ecological role based not only to breakdown different nutrient sources but also on accelerating nitrogen mineralization, improving nutrient acquisition, and therefore promoting plant growth in Antarctic terrestrial ecosystems.
- Antarctic vascular plants