Unexpected Diversity during Community Succession in the Apple Flower Microbiome

Despite its importance to the host, the flower microbiome is poorly understood. We report a culture-independent, community-level assessment of apple flower microbial diversity and dynamics. We collected flowers from six apple trees at five time points, starting before flowers opened and ending at petal fall. We applied streptomycin to half of the trees when flowers opened. Assessment of microbial diversity using tag pyrosequencing of 16S rRNA genes revealed that the apple flower communities were rich and diverse and dominated by members of TM7 and Deinococcus-Thermus, phyla about which relatively little is known. From thousands of taxa, we identified six successional groups with coherent dynamics whose abundances peaked at different times before and after bud opening. We designated the groups Pioneer, Early, Mid, Late, Climax, and Generalist communities. The successional pattern was attributed to a set of prevalent taxa that were persistent and gradually changing in abundance. These taxa had significant associations with other community members, as demonstrated with a cooccurrence network based on local similarity analysis. We also detected a set of less-abundant, transient taxa that contributed to general tree-to-tree variability but not to the successional pattern. Communities on trees sprayed with streptomycin had slightly lower phylogenetic diversity than those on unsprayed trees but did not differ in structure or succession. Our results suggest that changes in apple flower microbial community structure are predictable over the life of the flower, providing a basis for ecological understanding and disease management.

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