Solving the puzzle of yeast survival in ephemeral nectar systems: exponential growth is not enough

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Flower nectar is a sugar-rich ephemeral habitat for microorganisms. Nectar-borne yeasts are part of the microbial community and can affect pollination by changing nectar chemistry, attractiveness to pollinators or flower temperature if yeast population densities are high. Pollinators act as dispersal agents in this system; however, pollination events lead potentially to shrinking nectar yeast populations. We here examine how sufficiently high cell densities of nectar yeast can develop in a flower. In laboratory experiments, we determined the remaining fraction of nectar yeast cells after nectar removal, and used honeybees to determine the number of transmitted yeast cells from one flower to the next. The results of these experiments directly fed into a simulation model providing an insight into movement and colonization ecology of nectar yeasts. We found that cell densities only reached an ecologically relevant size for an intermediate pollination probability. Too few pollination events reduce yeast inoculation rate and too many reduce yeast population size strongly. In addition, nectar yeasts need a trait combination of at least an intermediate growth rate and an intermediate remaining fraction to compensate for highly frequent decimations. Our results can be used to predict nectar yeast dispersal, growth and consequently their ecological effects.

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