Antarctic cryptoendolithic microbial communities dominate ice-free areas of continental Antarctica, among the harshest environments on Earth. The endolithic lifestyle is a remarkable adaptation to the exceptional environmental extremes of this area, which is considered the closest terrestrial example to conditions on Mars. Recent efforts have attempted to elucidate composition of these extremely adapted communities, but the functionality of these microbes have remained unexplored. We have tested for interactions between measured environmental characteristics, fungal community membership, and inferred functional classification of the fungi present and found altitude and sun exposure were primary factors. Sandstone rocks were collected in Victoria Land, Antarctica along an altitudinal gradient from 834 to 3100 m a.s.l.; differently sun-exposed rocks were selected to test the influence of this parameter on endolithic settlement. Metabarcoding targeting the fungal internal transcribed spacer region 1 (ITS1) was used to catalogue the species found in these communities. Functional profile of guilds found in the samples was associated to species using FUNGuild and variation in functional groups compared across sunlight exposure and altitude. Results revealed clear dominance of lichenized and stress-tolerant fungi in endolithic communities. The main variations in composition and abundance of functional groups among sites correlated to sun exposure, but not to altitude.
Keywords: Antarctica; FUNGuild; ITS metabarcoding; endolithic communities; fungal ecology.