Encyclopedia of Astrobiology

2011 Edition
| Editors: Muriel Gargaud, Ricardo Amils, José Cernicharo Quintanilla, Henderson James (Jim) CleavesII, William M. Irvine, Daniele L. Pinti, Michel Viso


  • Charles S. CockellEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-11274-4_767



Communities, cyanobacteria, extremophiles, lithic habitats


Hypoliths are organisms or communities of organisms that live on the underside of rocks or at the rock–soil interface.


In hot and cold deserts, the underside of rocks can provide a refugium for microorganisms, both photosynthetic (cyanobacteria and algae) and non-photosynthetic (Cameron and Blank 1965; Schlesinger et al. 2003). The organisms are referred to as “hypoliths.” The community is termed “hypolithon” (following the terminology for endoliths by Golubic et al. 1981). The photosynthetic components of hypoliths include organisms adapted to extreme rock habitats including Chroococcidiopsis and Gloeocapsaspecies. Hypoliths often display well-defined “bands” of growth on the underside of rocks or in the case of thin rocks, complete colonization of their underside. As photosynthetic microorganisms provide a source of carbon for heterotrophic microorganisms, the hypolithic...
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References and Further Reading

  1. Berner T, Evenari M (1978) The influence of temperature and light penetration on the abundance of the hypolithic algae in the Negev Desert of Israel. Oecologia 33:255–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Broady PA (1981) The ecology of sublithic terrestrial algae at the Vestfold Hills, Antarctica. Brit Phycol J 16:231–240CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Budel B, Wessels DCJ (1991) Rock inhabiting blue-green algae from hot arid regions. Archiv fur Hydrobiology 92:385–398Google Scholar
  4. Cameron RE, Blank GB (1965) Soil studies – microflora of desert regions VIII. Distribution and abundance of desert microflora. Space Programs Summary 4:193–202Google Scholar
  5. Cockell CS, Stokes MD (2004) Widespread colonization by polar hypoliths. Nature 431:414ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cockell CS, Rettberg P, Horneck G, Scherer K, Stokes DM (2003) Measurements of microbial protection from ultraviolet radiation in polar terrestrial microhabitats. Polar Biol 26:62–69Google Scholar
  7. Golubic S, Friedmann I, Schneider J (1981) The lithobiontic ecological niche, with special reference to microorganisms. J Sed Petrol 51:0475–0478Google Scholar
  8. Schlesinger WH, Pippen JS, Wallenstein MD, Hofmockel KS, Klepeis DM, Mahall BE (2003) Community composition and photosynthesis by photoautotrophs under quartz pebbles, Southern Mohave Desert. Ecology 84:3222–3231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Smith MC, Bowman JP, Scott FJ, Line MA (2000) Sublithic bacteria associated with Antarctic quartz stones. Antarct Sci 12:177–184Google Scholar
  10. Warren-Rhodes KA, Rhodes KL, Boyle LN, Poiting SB, Chen Y, Liu SJ, Zhuo PJ, McKay CP (2007) Cyanobacterial ecology across environmental gradients and spatial scales in China’s hot and cold deserts. FEMS Microbiol Ecol 61:470–482CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Geomicrobiology Research Group, PSSRIOpen UniversityMilton KeynesUK