Original paper

Why there is such luxurious growth in the hypogean environments

Hernández-Mariné, Mariona; Clavero, Ester; Roldán, Mónica

Abstract

Organisms building biofilms are of considerable interest in the context of degradation of cultural heritage. Particularly, hypogean environments exposed to artificial light are colonized by microbial communities, which damage walls and frescoes. In order to ascertain the mechanisms by which phototophic biofilms thrive under the particular conditions of hypogea, the organism composition and three-dimensional structure of biofilms from the Roman catacombs St. Callistus and Domitilla were studied. The main phototrophic organisms forming the biofilms were filamentous sheathed cyanobacteria and mosses. Biofilms were spatially very heterogeneous in thickness, density and organism composition but could be classified as regards their main organisms. There was a trend of decreasing diversity in the phototrophic composition of the biofilms under lower irradiances, the one at the lowest irradiance being uniquely built by erected filaments of Leptolyngbya sp. Except for this biofilm, the main organism composition was not clearly related with decreasing irradiance. However, biofilms from dim light samples were porous and the filamentous cyanobacteria in them were erected. Leptolyngbya sp., the most ubiquitous species, displayed a high number of phycobilisomes and its hormogonia a gliding movement that allowed colonization of substrata. Such mechanisms may have an important role for thriving under the low light conditions of the catacombs.

Keywords

biofilmscatacombsclsmcyanobacteriaepshypogean environmentslow irradiancethree-dimensional structure of biofilms