Subalpine conifers in different geographical locations host highly similar foliar bacterial endophyte communities

FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2016 Aug;92(8):fiw124. doi: 10.1093/femsec/fiw124. Epub 2016 Jun 5.


Pines in the subalpine environment at Niwot Ridge, CO, have been found to host communities of acetic acid bacteria (AAB) within their needles. The significance and ubiquity of this pattern is not known, but recent evidence of nitrogen (N)-fixing activity in Pinus flexilis (limber pine) foliage calls for a better understanding of the processes that regulate endophytic communities in forest tree canopies. Here, to test if AAB dominate the foliar bacterial microbiota in other subalpine locations, we compared the 16S rRNA community in needles from P. flexilis and P. contorta (lodgepole pine) growing in the Eastern Sierra Nevada, CA, and Niwot Ridge, CO. AAB made up the majority of the bacterial community in both species at both sites. Multiple distinct AAB taxa, resolved at the single nucleotide level, were shared across host species and sites, with dominant OTUs identical or highly similar to database sequences from cold environments, including high altitude air sampled in Colorado, and the endosphere of Arctic plants. Our results suggest strong selection for community composition, potentially amplified by the long lifespan of individual Pinus needles, along with low dispersal constraints on canopy bacteria.

Keywords: 16S rRNA; Pinus; Subalpine; endophytic bacteria; limber pine; nitrogen fixation.

MeSH terms

  • Acetobacteraceae / classification*
  • Acetobacteraceae / genetics
  • Acetobacteraceae / isolation & purification*
  • Arctic Regions
  • Base Sequence
  • Colorado
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Endophytes / classification*
  • Endophytes / genetics
  • Endophytes / isolation & purification*
  • Nevada
  • Pinus / microbiology*
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Trees / microbiology*


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S