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Environ Microbiol. 2018 Mar;20(3):958-970. doi: 10.1111/1462-2920.14024. Epub 2017 Dec 29.

Tales from the tomb: the microbial ecology of exposed rock surfaces.

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Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA.
Departments of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology.
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA.


Although a broad diversity of eukaryotic and bacterial taxa reside on rock surfaces where they can influence the weathering of rocks and minerals, these communities and their contributions to mineral weathering remain poorly resolved. To build a more comprehensive understanding of the diversity, ecology and potential functional attributes of microbial communities living on rock, we sampled 149 tombstones across three continents and analysed their bacterial and eukaryotic communities via marker gene and shotgun metagenomic sequencing. We found that geographic location and climate were important factors structuring the composition of these communities. Moreover, the tombstone-associated microbial communities varied as a function of rock type, with granite and limestone tombstones from the same cemeteries harbouring taxonomically distinct microbial communities. The granite and limestone-associated communities also had distinct functional attributes, with granite-associated bacteria having more genes linked to acid tolerance and chemotaxis, while bacteria on limestone were more likely to be lichen associated and have genes involved in photosynthesis and radiation resistance. Together these results indicate that rock-dwelling microbes exhibit adaptations to survive the stresses of the rock surface, differ based on location, climate and rock type, and seem pre-disposed to different ecological strategies (symbiotic versus free-living lifestyles) depending on the rock type.


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