While a considerable amount of research has explored plant community composition in primary successional systems, little is known about the microbial communities inhabiting these pioneer plant species. Fungal endophytes are ubiquitous within plants, and may play major roles in early successional ecosystems. Specifically, endophytes have been shown to affect successional processes, as well as alter host stress tolerance and litter decomposition dynamics—both of which are important components in harsh environments where soil organic matter is still scarce.
To determine possible contributions of fungal endophytes to plant colonization patterns, we surveyed six of the most common woody species on the Pumice Plain of Mount St. Helens (WA, USA; Lawetlat'la in the Cowlitz language; created during the 1980 eruption)—a model primary successional ecosystem—and found low colonization rates (< 15%), low species richness, and low diversity. Furthermore, while endophyte community composition did differ among woody species, we found only marginal evidence of temporal changes in community composition over a single field season (July–September).
Our results indicate that even after a post-eruption period of 40 years, foliar endophyte communities still seem to be in the early stages of community development, and that the dominant pioneer riparian species Sitka alder (