Summer season and long-term drought increase the richness of bacteria and fungi in the foliar phyllosphere of Quercus ilex in a mixed Mediterranean forest

J Peñuelas, L Rico, R Ogaya, A S Jump, J Terradas
Plant Biology 2012, 14 (4): 565-75
We explored the changes in richness, diversity and evenness of epiphytic (on the leaf surface) and endophytic (within leaf tissues) bacteria and fungi in the foliar phyllosphere of Quercus ilex, the dominant tree species of Mediterranean forests. Bacteria and fungi were assessed during ontogenic development of the leaves, from the wet spring to the dry summer season in control plots and in plots subjected to drought conditions mimicking those projected for future decades. Our aim was to monitor succession in microbiota during the colonisation of plant leaves and its response to climate change. Ontogeny and seasonality exerted a strong influence on richness and diversity of the microbial phyllosphere community, which decreased in summer in the whole leaf and increased in summer in the epiphytic phyllosphere. Drought precluded the decrease in whole leaf phyllosphere diversity and increased the rise in the epiphytic phyllosphere. Both whole leaf bacterial and fungal richness decreased with the decrease in physiological activity and productivity of the summer season in control trees. As expected, the richness of epiphytic bacteria and fungi increased in summer after increasing time of colonisation. Under summer dry conditions, there was a positive relationship between TRF (terminal restriction fragments) richness and drought, both for whole leaf and epiphytic phyllosphere, and especially for fungal communities. These results demonstrate that changes in climate are likely to significantly alter microbial abundance and composition of the phyllosphere. Given the diverse functions and large number of phyllospheric microbes, the potential functional implications of such community shifts warrant exploration.

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