Zooming-in on floral nectar: a first exploration of nectar-associated bacteria in wild plant communities

Authors


Correspondence: Sergio Álvarez-Pérez, Estación Biológica de Doñana, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), Avda. Américo Vespucio, E-41092 Sevilla, Spain. Tel.: +34 954466700; fax: +34 954621125; e-mail: sealperez@ebd.csic.es

Abstract

Floral nectar of some animal-pollinated plants usually harbours highly adapted yeast communities which can profoundly alter nectar characteristics and, therefore, potentially have significant impacts on plant reproduction through their effects on insect foraging behaviour. Bacteria have also been occasionally observed in floral nectar, but their prevalence, phylogenetic diversity and ecological role within plant–pollinator–yeast systems remains unclear. Here we present the first reported survey of bacteria in floral nectar from a natural plant community. Culturable bacteria occurring in a total of 71 nectar samples collected from 27 South African plant species were isolated and identified by 16S rRNA gene sequencing. Rarefaction-based analyses were used to assess operational taxonomic units (OTUs) richness at the plant community level using nectar drops as sampling units. Our results showed that bacteria are common inhabitants of floral nectar of South African plants (53.5% of samples yielded growth), and their communities are characterized by low species richness (18 OTUs at a 16S rRNA gene sequence dissimilarity cut-off of 3%) and moderate phylogenetic diversity, with most isolates belonging to the Gammaproteobacteria. Furthermore, isolates showed osmotolerance, catalase activity and the ability to grow under microaerobiosis, three traits that might help bacteria to overcome important factors limiting their survival and/or growth in nectar.

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