• Dark septate endophytes (DSE) frequently colonize roots in the natural environment, but the effects of these fungi on plants are obscure, with previous studies indicating negative, neutral or positive effects on plant performance. • In order to reach a consensus for how DSE influence plant performance, meta-analyses were performed on data from 18 research articles, in which plants had been inoculated with DSE in sterile substrates. • Negative effects of DSE on plant performance were not recorded. Positive effects were identified on total, shoot and root biomass, and on shoot nitrogen (N) and phosphorus contents, with increases of 26-103% in these parameters for plants inoculated with DSE, relative to uninoculated controls. Inoculation increased total, shoot and root biomass by 52-138% when plants had not been supplied with additional inorganic N, or when all, or the majority, of N was supplied in organic form. Inoculation with the DSE Phialocephala fortinii was found to increase shoot and root biomass, shoot P concentration and shoot N content by 44-116%, relative to uninoculated controls. • The analyses here suggest that DSE enhance plant performance under controlled conditions, particularly when all, or the majority, of N is available in organic form.
© 2011 The Author. New Phytologist © 2011 New Phytologist Trust.