The carnivorous pale pitcher plant harbors diverse, distinct, and time-dependent bacterial communities

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2010 Mar;76(6):1851-60. doi: 10.1128/AEM.02440-09. Epub 2010 Jan 22.


The ability of American carnivorous pitcher plants (Sarracenia) to digest insect prey is facilitated by microbial associations. Knowledge of the details surrounding this interaction has been limited by our capability to characterize bacterial diversity in this system. To describe microbial diversity within and between pitchers of one species, Sarracenia alata, and to explore how these communities change over time as pitchers accumulate and digest insect prey, we collected and analyzed environmental sequence tag (454 pyrosequencing) and genomic fingerprint (automated ribosomal intergenic spacer analysis and terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism) data. Microbial richness associated with pitcher plant fluid is high; more than 1,000 unique phylogroups were identified across at least seven phyla and 50 families. We documented an increase in bacterial diversity and abundance with time and observed repeated changes in bacterial community composition. Pitchers from different plants harbored significantly more similar bacterial communities at a given time point than communities coming from the same genetic host over time. The microbial communities in pitcher plant fluid also differ significantly from those present in the surrounding soil. These findings indicate that the bacteria associated with pitcher plant leaves are far from random assemblages and represent an important step toward understanding this unique plant-microbe interaction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / classification*
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification*
  • Biodiversity*
  • Cluster Analysis
  • DNA Fingerprinting
  • DNA, Bacterial / chemistry
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • DNA, Ribosomal Spacer / chemistry
  • DNA, Ribosomal Spacer / genetics
  • Metagenome
  • Phylogeny
  • Polymorphism, Restriction Fragment Length
  • Sarraceniaceae / microbiology*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Time Factors


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • DNA, Ribosomal Spacer