Microbial life in the flower

While I mainly spend my research time underground – studying microbes in soil and plant roots, I recently got the opportunity to work together with Ashley Shade in writing a review paper about microbial communities living in flowers. Because I have been really interested in finding out how seeds might get colonized and what type of communities they interact with before leaving their parent plants, this was a great opportunity for me to dive into the literature of microbial ecology in the phyllosphere (plant structures above ground).


A few points that we discuss in our review are:

1. There is still a poor understanding of how flower microbiomes are formed, where the colonising microbes come from as well as how they vary between plant species and flower morphologies.

2. The flower itself provide microbes with a diverse set of habitats ranging from desert-like stamens to volatile petals and nutient rich, moist stigma (as shown in Fig1 from our paper below) that could select for distinct microbial communities.

3. We know very little about what effect microbial communities in flowers have on a plant’s reproductive success and how they are connected to the microbial communities of their pollinators.

Figure 1. The micro-scale landscape of flowers for microbial colonization, including close-ups
with examples of surface structures in: (a) petal, (b) stigma, (c) pollen, (d) anther, (e) nectary
and (f) sepal. (Aleklett et al. 2014)

To read more you can download the full article from here.

If you want to read even more about microbes living in flowers I would recommend that you take a look at some of these publications:

Good et al. 2014 – Honey Bees Avoid Nectar Colonized by Three Bacterial Species, But Not by a Yeast Species, Isolated from the Bee Gut. link

Shade et al. 2013 – Unexpected Diversity during Community Succession in the Apple Flower Microbiome.  link

Canto and Herrera 2012 – Micro-organisms behind the pollination scenes: microbial imprint on floral nectar sugar variation in a tropical plant community. link

Ngugi and Scherm 2006 – Biology of flower infecting fungi. link


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