Weakening of gneiss surfaces colonized by endolithic lichens in the temperate climate area of northwest Italy

    loading  Checking for direct PDF access through Ovid


A role of lithobionts in geomorphological processes is increasingly argued, but the spatio-temporal scale of their impact is largely unexplored in many ecosystems. This study first characterizes in the temperate zone (northwest Italy) the relationships between lithobiontic communities including endolithic lichens and the hardness of their siliceous rock substrate (Villarfocchiardo Gneiss). The communities are characterized, on humid and xeric quarry surfaces exposed for decades and natural outcrops exposed for centuries, in terms of lichen and microbial constituents, using a combined morphological and molecular approach, and with regard to their development on and within the gneiss.


A lichen species belonging to Acarosporaceae (Polysporina-Sarcogyne-Acarospora group, needing taxonomic revision) chasmoendolithically colonizes both the humid and xeric quarry surfaces, on which epilithic cyanobacterial biofilms and epilithic pioneer lichens respectively occur. Light and electron microscopic observations show the development of the endolithic thalli within rock microcracks and the hyphal penetration along crystal boundaries down to depths of 1 to 3 mm, more pronounced within the humid surfaces. Such colonization patterns are likely related to biogeophysical deterioration, while no chemical alteration characterizes minerals contacted by the endolithic lichen. By contrast, on natural outcrops, where the endolithic colonization is negligible, a reddish rind below epilithic lichens indicates chemical weathering processes.


Schmidt Hammer measurements highlight that the endolithic lichens deeply affect the hardness of the gneiss (down to −60% with respect to fresh controls and surfaces only colonized by cyanobacteria), exerting a significantly higher weakening effect with respect to the associated epilithic lithobionts. The phenomenon is more remarkable on humid than on xeric quarry surfaces and natural outcrops, where epilithic lichens are likely involved in long-term hardening processes supporting surface stabilization.


Endolithic lichens are thus active biogeomorphological agents at the upper millimetric layer of siliceous rocks in temperate areas, exerting their weakening action during the early decade-scaled stages of surface exposure. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Related Topics

    loading  Loading Related Articles