Microbial Ecology

, Volume 59, Issue 4, pp 689–699 | Cite as

Endolithic Microbial Colonization of Limestone in a High-altitude Arid Environment

  • Fiona K. Y. Wong
  • Maggie C. Y. Lau
  • Donnabella C. Lacap
  • Jonathan C. Aitchison
  • Donald A. Cowan
  • Stephen B. PointingEmail author
Environmental Microbiology


The morphology of endolithic colonization in a limestone escarpment and surrounding rocky debris (termed float) at a high-altitude arid site in central Tibet was documented using scanning electron microscopy. Putative lichenized structures and extensive coccoid bacterial colonization were observed. Absolute and relative abundance of rRNA gene signatures using real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction and phylogenetic analysis of environmental phylotypes were used to characterize community structure across all domains. Escarpment endoliths were dominated by eukaryotic phylotypes suggestive of lichenised associations (a Trebouxia lichen phycobiont and Leptodontidium lichen mycobiont), whereas float endoliths were dominated by bacterial phylotypes, including the cyanobacterium Chroococcidiopsis plus several unidentified beta proteobacteria and crenarchaea. Among a range of abiotic variables tested, ultraviolet (UV) transmittance by rock substrates was the factor best able to explain differences in community structure, with eukaryotic lichen phylotypes more abundant under conditions of greater UV-exposure compared to prokaryotes. Variously pigmented float rocks did not support significantly different communities. Estimates of in situ carbon fixation based upon 14C radio-labelled bicarbonate uptake indicated endolithic productivity of approximately 2.01 g C/m2/year−1, intermediate between estimates for Antarctic and temperate communities.


Photosynthetically Active Radiation Archaea Solar Noon Bacterial Phylotypes Float Rock 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors are grateful to the Tibet Ministry of Geology for fieldwork assistance and to the Hong Kong Research Grants Council (grant numbers HKU 7375/05M and HKU 7733/08M) and Stephen Hui Trust Fund for financial support.

Supplementary material

248_2009_9607_MOESM1_ESM.doc (849 kb)
Fig. S1 Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) profiles for limestone endolithon (scarp, gray float [GF], pink float [PF], white float [WF], pink layer [PL], and green layer [GL]) using polymerase chain reaction primers specific to eukarya (a), bacteria (b), cyanobacteria (c), and archaea (d). Numbers beside each gel indicate the denaturant gradient, numbers specific to each band are the phylotype identifiers (same as used in phylogenetic trees), asterisks in bacteria DGGE indicate plastid phylotypes, white arrows in bacteria DGGE (b) indicate cyanobacterial phylotypes and white arrows in eukaryal DGGE (a) indicate fungal phylotypes. (DOC 849 kb)
248_2009_9607_MOESM2_ESM.doc (104 kb)
Table S1 Abiotic variables for limestone scarp and float colonized by endolithic microorganisms. (DOC 104 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Fiona K. Y. Wong
    • 1
  • Maggie C. Y. Lau
    • 1
  • Donnabella C. Lacap
    • 1
  • Jonathan C. Aitchison
    • 2
  • Donald A. Cowan
    • 3
  • Stephen B. Pointing
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesThe University of Hong KongHong KongPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Department of Earth SciencesThe University of Hong KongHong KongPeople’s Republic of China
  3. 3.Institute for Microbial Biotechnology and MetagenomicsUniversity of the Western CapeCape TownSouth Africa

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