Microbial Ecology

Epilithic and Endolithic Bacterial Communities in Limestone from a Maya Archaeological Site

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Courtesy of Microbial Ecology

Abstract 
Biodeterioration of archaeological sites and historic buildings is a major concern for conservators, archaeologists, and scientists involved in preservation of the world's cultural heritage. The Maya archaeological sites in southern Mexico, some of the most important cultural artifacts in the Western Hemisphere, are constructed of limestone. High temperature and humidity have resulted in substantial microbial growth on stone surfaces at many of the sites. Despite the porous natureof limestone and the common occurrence of endolithic microorganisms in many habitats, little is known about the microbial flora living inside the stone. We found a large endolithic bacterial community in limestone from the interior of the Maya archaeological site Ek' Balam. Analysis of 16S rDNA clones demonstrated disparate communities (endolithic: >80% Actinobacteria, Acidobacteria, and Low GC Firmicutes; epilithic: >50% Proteobacteria). The presence of differing epilithic and endolithic bacterial communities may be a significant factor for conservation of stone cultural heritage materials and quantitative prediction of carbonate weathering.

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