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Diverse hypolithic refuge communities in the McMurdo Dry Valleys

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 December 2010

Don A. Cowan*
Institute for Microbial Biotechnology and Metagenomics, University of the Western Cape, Bellville 7535, Cape Town, South Africa
Nuraan Khan
Institute for Microbial Biotechnology and Metagenomics, University of the Western Cape, Bellville 7535, Cape Town, South Africa
Stephen B. Pointing
School of Biological Sciences, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong, China
S. Craig Cary
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand


Hyper-arid deserts present extreme challenges to life. The environmental buffering provided by quartz and other translucent rocks allows hypolithic microbial communities to develop on sub-soil surfaces of such rocks. These refuge communities have been reported, for many locations worldwide, to be predominantly cyanobacterial in nature. Here we report the discovery in Antarctica’s hyper-arid McMurdo Dry Valleys of three clearly distinguishable types of hypolithic community. Based on gross colonization morphology and identification of dominant taxa, we have classified hypolithic communities as Type I (cyanobacterial dominated), Type II (fungal dominated) and Type III (moss dominated). This discovery supports a growing awareness of the high biocomplexity in Antarctic deserts, emphasizes the possible importance of cryptic microbial communities in nutrient cycling and provides evidence for possible successional community processes within a cold arid landscape.

Research Article
Copyright © Antarctic Science Ltd 2010

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