Combining stable isotope (δ13C) of trace gases and aerobiological data to monitor the entry and dispersion of microorganisms in caves
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Altamira Cave (north of Spain) contains one of the world's most prominent Paleolithic rock art paintings, which are threatened by a massive microbial colonization of ceiling and walls. Previous studies revealed that exchange rates between the cave and the external atmosphere through the entrance door play a decisive role in the entry and transport of microorganisms (bacteria and fungi) and nutrients to the interior of the cave. A spatial-distributed sampling and measurement of carrier (CO2) and trace (CH4) gases and isotopic signal of CO2 (δ13C) inside the cave supports the existence of a second connection (active gas exchange processes) with the external atmosphere at or near the Well Hall, the innermost and deepest area of the cave. A parallel aerobiological study also showed that, in addition to the entrance door, there is another connection with the external atmosphere, which favors the transport and increases microorganism concentrations in the Well Hall. This double approach provides a more complete knowledge on cave ventilation and revealed the existence of unknown passageways in the cave, a fact that should be taken into account in future cave management.
KeywordsCaves Gases Bacteria Fungi Cave management
This research was supported by the Spanish Ministry of Sciences and Innovation, project CGL2010-17108/BTE. EG-A is supported by a CSIC JAE-Predoctoral grant. SC benefits of a postdoctoral fellowship from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation, research programme Juan de la Cierva. AF-C was funded by a postdoctoral fellowship the JAE-Doc Program (CSIC). AZM was supported by FCT grant SFRH/BPD/63836/2009. Altamira Cave Research Centre and Museum staffs are acknowledged for their collaboration throughout the research period. This is a TCP-CSD 2007–00058 paper.
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