Journal Article

Micro-organisms behind the pollination scenes: microbial imprint on floral nectar sugar variation in a tropical plant community

A. Canto and C. M. Herrera

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 110, issue 6, pages 1173-1183
Published in print November 2012 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online August 2012 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcs183
Micro-organisms behind the pollination scenes: microbial imprint on floral nectar sugar variation in a tropical plant community

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry

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Background and Aims

Variation in the composition of floral nectar reflects intrinsic plant characteristics as well as the action of extrinsic factors. Micro-organisms, particularly yeasts, represent one extrinsic factor that inhabit the nectar of animal-pollinated flowers worldwide. In this study a ‘microbial imprint hypothesis’ is formulated and tested, in which it is proposed that natural community-wide variation in nectar sugar composition will partly depend on the presence of yeasts in flowers.

Methods

Occurrence and density of yeasts were studied microscopically in single-flower nectar samples of 22 animal-pollinated species from coastal xeric and sub-humid tropical habitats of the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico. Nectar sugar concentration and composition were concurrently determined on the same samples using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) methods.

Key Results

Microscopical examination of nectar samples revealed the presence of yeasts in nearly all plant species (21 out of 22 species) and in about half of the samples examined (51·8 % of total, all species combined). Plant species and individuals differed significantly in nectar sugar concentration and composition, and also in the incidence of nectar yeasts. After statistically controlling for differences between plant species and individuals, nectar yeasts still accounted for a significant fraction of community-wide variance in all nectar sugar parameters considered. Significant yeast × species interactions on sugar parameters revealed that plant species differed in the nectar sugar correlates of variation in yeast incidence.

Conclusions

The results support the hypothesis that nectar yeasts impose a detectable imprint on community-wide variation in nectar sugar composition and concentration. Since nectar sugar features influence pollinator attraction and plant reproduction, future nectar studies should control for yeast presence and examine the extent to which microbial signatures on nectar characteristics ultimately have some influence on pollination services in plant communities.

Keywords: Floral nectar; nectar composition; nectar sugars; flower yeasts

Journal Article.  7372 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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