The ecology of the phyllosphere: geographic and phylogenetic variability in the distribution of bacteria on tree leaves

Environ Microbiol. 2010 Nov;12(11):2885-93. doi: 10.1111/j.1462-2920.2010.02258.x.


Large populations of bacteria live on leaf surfaces and these phyllosphere bacteria can have important effects on plant health. However, we currently have a limited understanding of bacterial diversity on tree leaves and the inter- and intra-specific variability in phyllosphere community structure. We used a barcoded pyrosequencing technique to characterize the bacterial communities from leaves of 56 tree species in Boulder, Colorado, USA, quantifying the intra- and inter-individual variability in the bacterial communities from 10 of these species. We also examined the geographic variability in phyllosphere communities on Pinus ponderosa from several locations across the globe. Individual tree species harboured high levels of bacterial diversity and there was considerable variability in community composition between trees. The bacterial communities were organized in patterns predictable from the relatedness of the trees as there was significant correspondence between tree phylogeny and bacterial community phylogeny. Inter-specific variability in bacterial community composition exceeded intra-specific variability, a pattern that held even across continents where we observed minimal geographic differentiation in the bacterial communities on P. ponderosa needles.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria* / classification
  • Bacteria* / genetics
  • Bacteria* / isolation & purification
  • Biodiversity
  • Colorado
  • DNA Barcoding, Taxonomic
  • Ecosystem*
  • Geography
  • Microbial Consortia
  • Phylogeny
  • Pinus ponderosa / microbiology*
  • Plant Leaves / microbiology*
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA
  • Species Specificity
  • Trees / classification
  • Trees / microbiology*


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S