Characterization of Chasmoendolithic Community in Miers Valley, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica
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The Antarctic Dry Valleys are unable to support higher plant and animal life and so microbial communities dominate biotic ecosystem processes. Soil communities are well characterized, but rocky surfaces have also emerged as a significant microbial habitat. Here, we identify extensive colonization of weathered granite on a landscape scale by chasmoendolithic microbial communities. A transect across north-facing and south-facing slopes plus valley floor moraines revealed 30–100 % of available substrate was colonized up to an altitude of 800 m. Communities were assessed at a multidomain level and were clearly distinct from those in surrounding soils and other rock-inhabiting cryptoendolithic and hypolithic communities. All colonized rocks were dominated by the cyanobacterial genus Leptolyngbya (Oscillatoriales), with heterotrophic bacteria, archaea, algae, and fungi also identified. Striking patterns in community distribution were evident with regard to microclimate as determined by aspect. Notably, a shift in cyanobacterial assemblages from Chroococcidiopsis-like phylotypes (Pleurocapsales) on colder–drier slopes, to Synechococcus-like phylotypes (Chroococcales) on warmer–wetter slopes. Greater relative abundance of known desiccation-tolerant bacterial taxa occurred on colder–drier slopes. Archaeal phylotypes indicated halotolerant taxa and also taxa possibly derived from nearby volcanic sources. Among the eukaryotes, the lichen photobiont Trebouxia (Chlorophyta) was ubiquitous, but known lichen-forming fungi were not recovered. Instead, fungal assemblages were dominated by ascomycetous yeasts. We conclude that chasmoendoliths likely constitute a significant geobiological phenomenon at lower elevations in granite-dominated Antarctic Dry Valley systems.
The authors are extremely grateful to Antarctica New Zealand for logistics and field support in Antarctica. This research was supported by Foundation for Research, Science and Technology of New Zealand (UOWX0710 and UOWX0715). A.delR, SPO were supported by grant CTM2012-3822-C02-02 from the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competition. CKL and SCC were supported by the New Zealand Marsden Fund (UOW1003 and UOW0802).
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