Cave of Forgotten Fungi

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Science  06 Apr 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6077, pp. 13
DOI: 10.1126/science.336.6077.13-c

A fungal outbreak has been threatening the 15,000-year-old Paleolithic rock art found in Lascaux Cave, France, since 2001, when intrusive white mycelia growths were first discovered in the cave. Unfortunately, the situation only worsened after varying biocide and mechanical treatments that removed the white overgrowths but resulted in the appearance and spread of large black fungal stains on the walls. Martin-Sanchez et al. isolated the most abundant species of fungi growing in the black stains between 2008 and 2011, before and after biocide treatments, to determine how the community structure has changed over time. Clone libraries constructed from samples taken in 2008 showed that fungal communities were dominated by one species; however, after treatment, fungal diversity substantially increased. In 2010 and 2011, the communities were again different, with the new community dominated by, among others, closely related black yeasts in the family Herpotrichiellaceae. Thus, the biocide treatments were at least partially responsible for the new fungal outbreaks. Careful testing of treatment methods or limiting tourism activities near Lascaux and other cave paintings (see Saiz-Jimenez et al., Policy Forum, 7 October 2011, p. 42) may hopefully prevent a similar fate for other caves.

Environ. Sci. Technol. 10.1021/es2040625 (2012).

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