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Explaining Bacterial Dispersion on Leaf Surfaces with an Individual-Based Model (PHYLLOSIM)


We developed the individual-based model PHYLLOSIM to explain observed variation in the size of bacterial clusters on plant leaf surfaces (the phyllosphere). Specifically, we tested how different 'waterscapes' impacted the diffusion of nutrients from the leaf interior to the surface and the growth of individual bacteria on these nutrients. In the 'null' model or more complex 'patchy' models, the surface was covered with a continuous water film or with water drops of equal or different volumes, respectively. While these models predicted the growth of individual bacterial immigrants into clusters of variable sizes, they were unable to reproduce experimentally derived, previously published patterns of dispersion which were characterized by a much larger variation in cluster sizes and a disproportionate occurrence of clusters consisting of only one or two bacteria. The fit of model predictions to experimental data was about equally poor (<5%) regardless of whether the water films were continuous or patchy. Only by allowing individual bacteria to detach from developing clusters and re-attach elsewhere to start a new cluster, did PHYLLOSIM come much closer to reproducing experimental observations. The goodness of fit including detachment increased to about 70-80% for all waterscapes. Predictions of this 'detachment' model were further supported by the visualization and quantification of bacterial detachment and attachment events at an agarose-water interface. Thus, both model and experiment suggest that detachment of bacterial cells from clusters is an important mechanism underlying bacterial exploration of the phyllosphere.

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