The Ecology of Bacillus thuringiensis on the Phylloplane: Colonization from Soil, Plasmid Transfer, and Interaction with Larvae of Pieris brassicae
Seedlings of clover (Triflorium hybridum) were colonized by Bacillus thuringiensis when spores and seeds were co-inoculated into soil. Both a strain isolated in the vegetative form from the phylloplane of clover, 2810-S-4, and a laboratory strain, HD-1, were able to colonize clover to a density of about 1000 CFU/g leaf when seeds were sown in sterile soil and to a density of about 300 CFU/g leaf in nonsterile soil. A strain lacking the characteristic insecticidal crystal proteins produced a similar level of colonization over a 5-week period as the wild type strain, indicating that crystal production was not a mitigating factor during colonization. A small plasmid, pBC16, was transferred between strains of B. thuringiensis when donor and recipient strains were sprayed in vegetative form onto leaves of clover and pak choi (Brassica campestris var. chinensis). The rate of transfer was about 0.1 transconjugants/recipient and was dependent on the plant species. The levels of B. thuringiensis that naturally colonized leaves of pak choi produced negligible levels of mortality in third instar larvae of Pieris brassicae feeding on the plants. Considerable multiplication occurred in the excreted frass but not in the guts of living insects. Spores in the frass could be a source of recolonization from the soil and be transferred to other plants. These findings illustrate a possible cycle, not dependent on insect pathology, by which B. thuringiensis diversifies and maintains itself in nature.
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