Bacterial Succession on the Leaf Surface: A Novel System for Studying Successional Dynamics

Microb Ecol. 2009 Jul;58(1):189-98. doi: 10.1007/s00248-009-9495-y. Epub 2009 Feb 17.


Succession is a widely studied process in plant and animal systems, but succession in microbial communities has received relatively little attention despite the ubiquity of microorganisms in natural habitats. One important microbial habitat is the phyllosphere, or leaf surface, which harbors large, diverse populations of bacteria and offers unique opportunities for the study of succession and temporal community assembly patterns. To explore bacterial community successional patterns, we sampled phyllosphere communities on cottonwood (Populus deltoides) trees multiple times across the growing season, from leaf emergence to leaf fall. Bacterial community composition was highly variable throughout the growing season; leaves sampled as little as a week apart were found to harbor significantly different communities, and the temporal variability on a given tree exceeded the variability in community composition between individual trees sampled on a given day. The bacterial communities clearly clustered into early-, mid-, and late-season clusters, with early- and late-season communities being more similar to each other than to the mid-season communities, and these patterns appeared consistent from year to year. Although we observed clear and predictable changes in bacterial community composition during the course of the growing season, changes in phyllosphere bacterial diversity were less predictable. We examined the species-time relationship, a measure of species turnover rate, and found that the relationship was fundamentally similar to that observed in plant and invertebrate communities, just on a shorter time scale. The temporal dynamics we observed suggest that although phyllosphere bacterial communities have high levels of phylogenetic diversity and rapid turnover rates, these communities follow predictable successional patterns from season to season.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / growth & development*
  • Biodiversity*
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Phylogeny
  • Plant Leaves / microbiology*
  • Populus / microbiology*
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Seasons
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S