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

Abstract

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.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Antarctic Science Ltd 2010

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