Microbial abundance, composition, and function in nectar are shaped by flower visitor identity

Megan M. Morris, Natalie J. Frixione, Alexander C. Burkert, Elizabeth A. Dinsdale, Rachel L. Vannette

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


Microbial dispersal is essential for establishment in new habitats, but the role of vector identity is poorly understood in community assembly and function. Here, we compared microbial assembly and function in floral nectar visited by legitimate pollinators (hummingbirds) and nectar robbers (carpenter bees). We assessed effects of visitation on the abundance and composition of culturable bacteria and fungi and their taxonomy and function using shotgun metagenomics and nectar chemistry. We also compared metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs) of Acinetobacter, a common and highly abundant nectar bacterium, among visitor treatments. Visitation increased microbial abundance, but robbing resulted in 10× higher microbial abundance than pollination. Microbial communities differed among visitor treatments: robbed flowers were characterized by predominant nectar specialists within Acetobacteraceae and Metschnikowiaceae, with a concurrent loss of rare taxa, and these resulting communities harbored genes relating to osmotic stress, saccharide metabolism and specialized transporters. Gene differences were mirrored in function: robbed nectar contained a higher percentage of monosaccharides. Draft genomes of Acinetobacter revealed distinct amino acid and saccharide utilization pathways in strains isolated from robbed versus pollinated flowers. Our results suggest an unrecognized cost of nectar robbing for pollination and distinct effects of visitor type on interactions between plants and pollinators. Overall, these results suggest vector identity is an underappreciated factor structuring microbial community assembly and function.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberfiaa003
Number of pages14
JournalFEMS microbiology ecology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • community assembly
  • dispersal
  • hummingbird
  • microbial ecology
  • microbiome
  • nectar yeast
  • Xylocopa


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