First and third authors: Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, University of California, Berkeley 94720; and second author: Department of Plant Science, University of California, Davis 95616.
Although Salmonella enterica apparently has comparatively low epiphytic fitness on plants, external factors that would influence its ability to survive on plants after contamination would be of significance in the epidemiology of human diseases caused by this human pathogen. Viable population sizes of S. enterica applied to plants preinoculated with Pseudomonas syringae or either of two Erwinia herbicola strains was ≥10-fold higher than that on control plants that were not precolonized by such indigenous bacteria when assessed 24 to 72 h after the imposition of desiccation stress. The protective effect of P. fluorescens, which exhibited antibiosis toward S. enterica in vitro, was only ≈50% that conferred by other bacterial strains. Although S. enterica could produce small cellular aggregates after incubation on wet leaves for several days, and the cells in such aggregates were less susceptible to death upon acute dehydration than solitary cells (as determined by propidium iodide staining), most Salmonella cells were found as isolated cells when it was applied to leaves previously colonized by other bacterial species. The proportion of solitary cells of S. enterica coincident with aggregates of cells of preexisting epiphytic species that subsequently were judged as nonviable by viability staining on dry leaves was as much as 10-fold less than those that had landed on uncolonized portions of the leaf. Thus, survival of immigrant cells of S. enterica on plants appears to be strongly context dependent, and the presence of common epiphytic bacteria on plants can protect such immigrants from at least one key stress (i.e., desiccation) encountered on leaf surfaces.