Natural bacterial assemblages in arabidopsis thaliana tissues become more distinguishable and diverse during host development

Kathleen Beilsmith, Matthew Perisin, Joy Bergelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To study the spatial and temporal dynamics of bacterial colonization under field conditions, we planted and sampled Arabidopsis thaliana during 2 years at two Michigan sites and surveyed colonists by sequencing 16S rRNA gene ampli-cons. Mosaic and dynamic assemblages revealed the plant as a patchwork of tissue habitats that differentiated with age. Although assemblages primarily varied between roots and shoots, amplicon sequence variants (ASVs) also differentiated phyllosphere tissues. Increasing assemblage diversity indicated that variants dispersed more widely over time, decreasing the importance of stochastic variation in early colonization relative to tissue differences. As tissues underwent developmental transitions, the root and phyllosphere assemblages became more distinct. This pattern was driven by common variants rather than those restricted to a particular tissue or transiently present at one developmental stage. Patterns also depended critically on fine phylogenetic resolution: when ASVs were grouped at coarse taxonomic levels, their associations with host tissue and age weakened. Thus, the observed spatial and temporal variation in colonization depended upon bacterial traits that were not broadly shared at the family level. Some colonists were consistently more successful at entering specific tissues, as evidenced by their repeatable spatial prevalence distributions across sites and years. However, these variants did not overtake plant assemblages, which instead became more even over time. Together, these results suggested that the increasing effect of tissue type was related to colonization bottlenecks for specific ASVs rather than to their ability to dominate other colonists once established. IMPORTANCE Developing synthetic microbial communities that can increase plant yield or deter pathogens requires basic research on several fronts, including the effi-ciency with which microbes colonize plant tissues, how plant genes shape the micro-biome, and the microbe-microbe interactions involved in community assembly. Findings on each of these fronts depend upon the spatial and temporal scales at which plant microbiomes are surveyed. In our study, phyllosphere tissues housed increasingly distinct microbial assemblages as plants aged, indicating that plants can be considered collections of tissue habitats in which microbial colonists—natural or synthetic—are established with differing success. Relationships between host genes and community diversity might vary depending on when samples are collected, given that assemblages grew more diverse as plants aged. Both spatial and temporal trends weakened when colonists were grouped by family, suggesting that functional rather than taxonomic profiling will be necessary to understand the basis for differences in colonization success.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere02723-20
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021


  • 16S RNA
  • Environmental microbiology
  • Microbial communities
  • Plant-microbe interactions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Virology


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