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Diverse hypolithic refuge communities in the McMurdo Dry Valleys

  • Don A. Cowan (a1), Nuraan Khan (a1), Stephen B. Pointing (a2) and S. Craig Cary (a3)


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.


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