, Volume 96, Issue 9, pp 1027-1034
Date: 30 May 2009

The fungal colonisation of rock-art caves: experimental evidence

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The conservation of rock-art paintings in European caves is a matter of increasing interest. This derives from the bacterial colonisation of Altamira Cave, Spain and the recent fungal outbreak of Lascaux Cave, France—both included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Here, we show direct evidence of a fungal colonisation of rock tablets in a testing system exposed in Altamira Cave. After 2 months, the tablets, previously sterilised, were heavily colonised by fungi and bacteria. Most fungi isolated were labelled as entomopathogens, while the bacteria were those regularly identified in the cave. Rock colonisation was probably promoted by the dissolved organic carbon supplied with the dripping and condensation waters and favoured by the displacement of aerosols towards the interior of the cave, which contributed to the dissemination of microorganisms. The role of arthropods in the dispersal of spores may also help in understanding fungal colonisation. This study evidences the fragility of rock-art caves and demonstrates that microorganisms can easily colonise bare rocks and materials introduced into the cavity.