The human enteric bacterial pathogen Salmonella enterica causes approximately 1.35 million cases of food borne illnesses annually in the United States. Of these salmonellosis cases, almost half are derived from the consumption of fresh, raw produce. Although epiphytic S. enterica populations naturally decline in the phyllosphere, a subset of phytophagous insects have recently been identified as biological multipliers, consequently facilitating the growth of bacterial populations. We investigated whether tomato leaves with macroscopic feeding damage, caused by infestation of adult Western flower thrips (Frankliniella occidentalis), support higher S. enterica populations. To explore this hypothesis, we assessed S. enterica populations in response to thrips feeding by varying insect density, plant age, and the gender of the insect. As a reference control, direct leaf damage analogous to thrips feeding was also evaluated using directed, hydraulic pressure. In a supplementary set series of experiments, groups of F. occidentalis infested tomato plants were later inoculated with S. enterica to determine how prior insect infestation might influence bacterial survival and persistence. Following an infestation period, leaves visibly damaged by adult F. occidentalis supported significantly higher S. enterica populations and resulted in greater amounts of electrolyte leakage (measured as electrical conductivity) than leaves lacking visible feeding damage. Plant age did not significantly influence S. enterica populations or estimates of electrolyte leakage, independent of initial infestation. Additionally, the gender of the insect did not uniquely influence S. enterica population dynamics. Finally, applications of aggressive water bombardment resulted in more electrolyte leakage than leaves damaged by F. occidentalis, yet supported comparable S. enterica populations. Together, this study indicates that F. occidentalis feeding is one of the many potential biological mechanisms creating a more habitable environment for S. enterica.


  • In the United States alone, the human enteric bacterial pathogen Salmonella enterica is estimated to cause 1.35 million cases of food-borne illnesses annually (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020)

  • S. enterica populations and electrolyte leakage are greater in F. occidentalis damaged sites in no-choice experiments

  • No-choice environment, tomato plants from two age groups (3 or 5 weeks-old) were exposed to low (5 insects/cage) or high (20 insects/cage) densities of F. occidentalis to investigate if plant age and insect density influenced S. enterica populations

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In the United States alone, the human enteric bacterial pathogen Salmonella enterica is estimated to cause 1.35 million cases of food-borne illnesses annually (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020). While it is generally perceived that cases of salmonellosis are acquired from consumption of S. enterica-contaminated animal products, cross-contamination of fresh produce has become an overwhelming risk throughout the cultivation process, subsequently resulting in a growing rate of produce-associated salmonellosis over the past decade [1, 2]. According to the CDC, S. enterica is responsible for the majority of bacterial foodborne illness and, unlike other bacterial foodborne pathogens, the incidence of outbreaks has not diminished over the last decade. Identifying the biotic mechanisms that allow enteric human pathogens, such as S. enterica, to persist or grow on fresh produce pre-harvest is the first step in reducing the disease burden and increasing food safety


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