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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2000 Jan;66(1):369-74.

Role of leaf surface sugars in colonization of plants by bacterial epiphytes.

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Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720-3102, USA.


The relationship between nutrients leached onto the leaf surface and the colonization of plants by bacteria was studied by measuring both the abundance of simple sugars and the growth of Pseudomonas fluorescens on individual bean leaves. Data obtained in this study indicate that the population size of epiphytic bacteria on plants under environmentally favorable conditions is limited by the abundance of carbon sources on the leaf surface. Sugars were depleted during the course of bacterial colonization of the leaf surface. However, about 20% of readily utilizable sugar, such as glucose, present initially remained on fully colonized leaves. The amounts of sugars on a population of apparently identical individual bean leaves before and after microbial colonization exhibited a similar right-hand-skewed distribution and varied by about 25-fold from leaf to leaf. Total bacterial population sizes on inoculated leaves under conditions favorable for bacterial growth also varied by about 29-fold and exhibited a right-hand-skewed distribution. The amounts of sugars on leaves of different plant species were directly correlated with the maximum bacterial population sizes that could be attained on those species. The capacity of bacteria to deplete leaf surface sugars varied greatly among plant species. Plants capable of supporting high bacterial population sizes were proportionally more depleted of leaf surface nutrients than plants with low epiphytic populations. Even in species with a high epiphytic bacterial population, a substantial amount of sugar remained after bacterial colonization. It is hypothesized that residual sugars on colonized leaves may not be physically accessible to the bacteria due to limitations in wettability and/or diffusion of nutrients across the leaf surface.

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