Microbiology of the atmosphere-rock interface: how biological interactions and physical stresses modulate a sophisticated microbial ecosystem

Annu Rev Microbiol. 2009;63:431-50. doi: 10.1146/annurev.micro.091208.073349.


Life at the atmosphere-lithosphere boundary is an ancient terrestrial niche that is sparsely covered by thin subaerial biofilms. The microbial inhabitants of these biofilms (a) have adapted to all types of terrestrial/subaerial stresses (e.g., desiccation, extreme temperatures, low nutrient availability, intense solar radiation), (b) interact with minerals that serve as both a dwelling and a source of mineral nutrients, and (c) provoke weathering of rocks and soil formation. Subaerial communities comprise heterotrophic and phototrophic microorganisms that support each other's lifestyle. Major lineages of eubacteria associated with the early colonization of land (e.g., Actinobacteria, Cyanobacteria) are present in these habitats along with eukaryotes such as microscopic green algae and ascomycetous fungi. The subaerial biofilm inhabitants have adapted to desiccation, solar radiation, and other environmental challenges by developing protective, melanized cell walls, assuming microcolonial architectures and symbiotic lifestyles. How these changes occurred, their significance in soil formation, and their potential as markers of climate change are discussed below.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Atmosphere*
  • Bacteria / growth & development
  • Biofilms / growth & development
  • Chlorophyta / growth & development
  • Ecosystem*
  • Fungi / growth & development
  • Geologic Sediments / microbiology*
  • Soil Microbiology*