Alkaloid variation among epichloid endophytes of sleepygrass (Achnatherum robustum) and consequences for resistance to insect herbivores

J Chem Ecol. 2015 Jan;41(1):93-104. doi: 10.1007/s10886-014-0534-x. Epub 2014 Dec 11.


Epichloid endophytes are well known symbionts of many cool-season grasses that may alleviate environmental stresses for their hosts. For example, endophytes produce alkaloid compounds that may be toxic to invertebrate or vertebrate herbivores. Achnatherum robustum, commonly called sleepygrass, was aptly named due to the presence of an endophyte that causes toxic effects to livestock and wildlife. Variation in alkaloid production observed in two A. robustum populations located near Weed and Cloudcroft in the Lincoln National Forest, New Mexico, suggests two different endophyte species are present in these populations. Genetic analyses of endophyte-infected samples revealed major differences in the endophyte alkaloid genetic profiles from the two populations, which were supported with chemical analyses. The endophyte present in the Weed population was shown to produce chanoclavine I, paspaline, and terpendoles, so thus resembles the previously described Epichloë funkii. The endophyte present in the Cloudcroft population produces chanoclavineI, ergonovine, lysergic acid amide, and paspaline, and is an undescribed endophyte species. We observed very low survival rates for aphids feeding on plants infected with the Cloudcroft endophyte, while aphid survival was better on endophyte infected plants in the Weed population. This observation led to the hypothesis that the alkaloid ergonovine is responsible for aphid mortality. Direct testing of aphid survival on oat leaves supplemented with ergonovine provided supporting evidence for this hypothesis. The results of this study suggest that alkaloids produced by the Cloudcroft endophyte, specifically ergonovine, have insecticidal properties.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alkaloids / analysis*
  • Animals
  • Aphids / drug effects
  • Aphids / physiology*
  • Endophytes / chemistry*
  • Epichloe / chemistry*
  • Epichloe / genetics
  • Ergolines / analysis
  • Ergonovine / analysis
  • Ergonovine / pharmacology
  • Ergot Alkaloids / analysis
  • Genetic Variation
  • Herbivory*
  • Indoles / analysis
  • Insecticides / pharmacology
  • Lysergic Acid Diethylamide / analogs & derivatives
  • Lysergic Acid Diethylamide / analysis
  • New Mexico
  • Poaceae / chemistry*
  • Poaceae / microbiology
  • Poaceae / physiology


  • Alkaloids
  • Ergolines
  • Ergot Alkaloids
  • Indoles
  • Insecticides
  • lysergamide
  • paspaline
  • chanoclavine
  • Lysergic Acid Diethylamide
  • Ergonovine