We demonstrate that native grass species from coastal and geothermal habitats require symbiotic fungal endophytes for salt and heat tolerance, respectively. Symbiotically conferred stress tolerance is a habitat-specific phenomenon with geothermal endophytes conferring heat but not salt tolerance, and coastal endophytes conferring salt but not heat tolerance. The same fungal species isolated from plants in habitats devoid of salt or heat stress did not confer these stress tolerances. Moreover, fungal endophytes from agricultural crops conferred disease resistance and not salt or heat tolerance. We define habitat-specific, symbiotically-conferred stress tolerance as habitat-adapted symbiosis and hypothesize that it is responsible for the establishment of plants in high-stress habitats. The agricultural, coastal and geothermal plant endophytes also colonized tomato (a model eudicot) and conferred disease, salt and heat tolerance, respectively. In addition, the coastal plant endophyte colonized rice (a model monocot) and conferred salt tolerance. These endophytes have a broad host range encompassing both monocots and eudicots. Interestingly, the endophytes also conferred drought tolerance to plants regardless of the habitat of origin. Abiotic stress tolerance correlated either with a decrease in water consumption or reactive oxygen sensitivity/generation but not to increased osmolyte production. The ability of fungal endophytes to confer stress tolerance to plants may provide a novel strategy for mitigating the impacts of global climate change on agricultural and native plant communities.The ISME Journal (2008) 2, 404-416; doi:10.1038/ismej.2007.106; published online 7 February 2008. ?? 2008 International Society for Microbial Ecology All rights reserved.