Insect herbivory reshapes a native leaf microbiome

Parris T. Humphrey, Noah K. Whiteman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


Insect herbivory is pervasive in plant communities, but its impact on microbial plant colonizers is not well-studied in natural systems. By calibrating sequencing-based bacterial detection to absolute bacterial load, we find that the within-host abundance of most leaf microbiome (phyllosphere) taxa colonizing a native forb is amplified within leaves affected by insect herbivory. Herbivore-associated bacterial amplification reflects community-wide compositional shifts towards lower ecological diversity, but the extent and direction of such compositional shifts can be interpreted only by quantifying absolute abundance. Experimentally eliciting anti-herbivore defences reshaped within-host fitness ranks among Pseudomonas spp. field isolates and amplified a subset of putatively phytopathogenic P. syringae in a manner causally consistent with observed field-scale patterns. Herbivore damage was inversely correlated with plant reproductive success and was highly clustered across plants, which predicts tight co-clustering with putative phytopathogens across hosts. Insect herbivory may thus drive the epidemiology of plant-infecting bacteria as well as the structure of a native plant microbiome by generating variation in within-host bacterial fitness at multiple phylogenetic and spatial scales. This study emphasizes that ‘non-focal’ biotic interactions between hosts and other organisms in their ecological settings can be crucial drivers of the population and community dynamics of host-associated microbiomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)221-229
Number of pages9
JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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