Trees reveal bacterial identity

red dogwoodExplaining what the word phyllosphere meant to my friends when I was a young and eager graduate student was memorable. They thought that I was 1) making up the word and 2) it was a ridiculous word because there isn’t a “sphere” around leaves. Agreeing to disagree, we let the issue go and today, 10 years later, I see that the phyllosphere is in the news.

Researchers from the University of Oregon just shared their discovery that tropical tree species each harbor a specific collection of microbes on their leaves. Like a bacterial fingerprint, the diversity of each microbial community is unique to its host plant. Bacteria quickly colonize leaves once they emerge and as leaves age, the microbial community becomes more complex within the phyllosphere. While the affect of these microbial foliar inhabitants is often innocuous, some bacteria seem to positively impact the health of plants.

For more on the findings, read the researcher’s new paper:

S. W. Kembel, T. K. O’Connor, H. K. Arnold, S. P. Hubbell, S. J. Wright, J. L. Green. Relationships between phyllosphere bacterial communities and plant functional traits in a neotropical forestProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1216057111

Check out the redwood phyllosphere here.


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