Invasive Lactuca serriola seeds contain endophytic bacteria that contribute to drought tolerance.
The mutualistic relationship between alien plant species and microorganisms is proposed to facilitate or hinder invasive success, depending on whether plants can form novel associations with microorganisms in the introduced habitats. However, this hypothesis has not considered seed endophytes that would move together with plant propagules. Little information is available on the seed endophytic bacteria of invasive species and their effects on plant performance. We isolated the seed endophytic bacteria of a xerophytic invasive plant, Lactuca serriola, and examined their plant growth-promoting traits. In addition, we assessed whether these seed endophytes contributed to plant drought tolerance. Forty-two bacterial species were isolated from seeds, and all of them exhibited at least one plant growth-promoting trait. Kosakonia cowanii occurred in all four tested plant populations and produced a high concentration of exopolysaccharides in media with a highly negative water potential. Notably, applying K. cowanii GG1 to Arabidopsis thaliana stimulated plant growth under drought conditions. It also reduced soil water loss under drought conditions, suggesting bacterial production of exopolysaccharides might contribute to the maintenance of soil water content. These results imply that invasive plants can disperse along with beneficial bacterial symbionts, which potentially improve plant fitness and help to establish alien plant species.