Bacteria colonising Penstemon digitalis show volatile and tissue-specific responses to a natural concentration range of the floral volatile linalool

Chemoecology. 2018;28(1):11-19. doi: 10.1007/s00049-018-0252-x. Epub 2018 Mar 1.


Bacteria on floral tissue can have negative effects by consuming resources and affecting nectar quality, which subsequently could reduce pollinator visitation and plant fitness. Plants however can employ chemical defences to reduce bacteria density. In North American, bee-pollinated Penstemon digitalis, the nectar volatile S-(+)-linalool can influence plant fitness, and terpenes such as linalool are known for their antimicrobial properties suggesting that it may also play a role in plant-microbe interactions. Therefore, we hypothesized linalool could affect bacterial growth on P. digitalis plants/flowers. Because P. digitalis emits linalool from nectar and nectary tissue but not petals, we hypothesised that the effects of linalool could depend on tissue of origin due to varying exposure. We isolated bacteria from nectary tissue, petals and leaves, and compared their growth relative to control using two volatile concentrations representing the natural emission range of linalool. To assess whether effects were specific to linalool, we compared results with the co-occurring nectar volatile, methyl nicotinate. We show that response to floral volatiles can be substance and tissue-origin specific. Because linalool could slow growth rate of bacteria across the P. digitalis phyllosphere, floral emission of linalool could play a role in mediating plant-bacteria interactions in this system.

Keywords: Anti-microbial; Phyllosphere; Plant defence; Scented nectar; Volatile organic compounds (VOCs).