The phyllosphere of Phoenix's urban forest: insights from a publicly-funded microbial environment

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The aboveground surfaces of plants (i.e. the phyllosphere) comprise the largest biological interface on Earth (over 108 km2). The phyllosphere is a diverse microbial environment where bacterial inhabitants have been

The aboveground surfaces of plants (i.e. the phyllosphere) comprise the largest biological interface on Earth (over 108 km2). The phyllosphere is a diverse microbial environment where bacterial inhabitants have been shown to sequester and degrade airborne pollutants (i.e. phylloremediation). However, phyllosphere dynamics are not well understood in urban environments, and this environment has never been studied in the City of Phoenix, which maintains roughly 92,000 city trees. The phyllosphere will grow if the City of Phoenix is able to achieve its goal of 25% canopy coverage by 2030, but this begs the question: How and where should the urban canopy expand? I addressed this question from a phyllosphere perspective by sampling city trees of two species, Ulmus parvifolia (Chinese Elm) and Dalbergia sissoo (Indian Rosewood) in parks and on roadsides. I identified characteristics of the bacterial community structure and interpreted the ecosystem service potential of trees in these two settings. I used culture-independent methods to compare the abundance of each unique bacterial lineage (i.e. ontological taxonomic units or OTUs) on the leaves of park trees versus on roadside tree leaves. I found numerous bacteria (81 OTUs) that were significantly more abundant on park trees than on roadside trees. Many of these OTUs are ubiquitous to bacterial phyllosphere communities, are known to promote the health of the host tree, or have been shown to degrade airborne pollutants. Roadside trees had fewer bacteria (10 OTUs) that were significantly more abundant when compared to park trees, but several have been linked to the remediation of petroleum combustion by-products. These findings, that were not available prior to this study, may inform the City of Phoenix as it is designing its future urban forests.