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Hypolithic microbial communities: between a rock and a hard place

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2272-82
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Microbiology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2012


Drylands are the largest terrestrial biome on Earth and a ubiquitous feature is desert pavement terrain, comprising rocks embedded in the mineral soil surface. Quartz and other translucent rocks are common and microbial communities termed hypoliths develop as biofilms on their ventral surfaces. In extreme deserts these represent major concentrations of biomass, and are emerging as key to geobiological processes and soil stabilization. These highly specialized communities are dominated by cyanobacteria that support diverse heterotrophic assemblages. Here we identify global-scale trends in the ecology of hypoliths that are strongly related to climate, particularly with regard to shifts in cyanobacterial assemblages. A synthesis of available data revealed a linear trend for colonization with regard to climate, and we suggest potential application for hypoliths as 'biomarkers' of aridity on a landscape scale. The potential to exploit the soil-stabilizing properties of hypolithic colonization in environmental engineering on dryland soils is also discussed.

    Research areas

  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena, Biodiversity, Biomass, Desert Climate, Soil Microbiology

ID: 18640879