Arranging the bouquet of disease: floral traits and the transmission of plant and animal pathogens



Several floral microbes are known to be pathogenic to plants or floral visitors such as pollinators. Despite the ecological and economic importance of pathogens deposited in flowers, we often lack a basic understanding of how floral traits influence disease transmission. Here, we provide the first systematic review regarding how floral traits attract vectors (for plant pathogens) or hosts (for animal pathogens), mediate disease establishment and evolve under complex interactions with plant mutualists that can be vectors for microbial antagonists. Attraction of floral visitors is influenced by numerous phenological, morphological and chemical traits, and several plant pathogens manipulate floral traits to attract vectors. There is rapidly growing interest in how floral secondary compounds and antimicrobial enzymes influence disease establishment in plant hosts. Similarly, new research suggests that consumption of floral secondary compounds can reduce pathogen loads in animal pollinators. Given recent concerns about pollinator declines caused in part by pathogens, the role of floral traits in mediating pathogen transmission is a key area for further research. We conclude by discussing important implications of floral transmission of pathogens for agriculture, conservation and human health, suggesting promising avenues for future research in both basic and applied biology.