Endolithic Microorganisms in the Antarctic Cold Desert

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Science  26 Feb 1982:
Vol. 215, Issue 4536, pp. 1045-1053
DOI: 10.1126/science.215.4536.1045


In the frigid desert of the Antarctic dry valleys there are no visible life forms on the surface of the soil or rocks. Yet in certain rock types a narrow subsurface zone has a favorable microclimate and is colonized by microorganisms. Dominant are lichens of unusual organization. They survive not by physiological adaptation to lower temperatures, but by changing their mode of growth, being able to grow between the crystals of porous rocks. Their activity results in mobilization of iron compounds and in rock weatherning with a characteristic pattern of exfoliation. This simple ecosystem lacks both higher consumers and predators.

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