In the harshest environmental conditions of the Antarctic desert, normally incompatible with active life, microbes are adapted to exploit the cryptoendolithic habitat (i.e., pore spaces of rocks) and represent the predominant life-forms. In the rocky niche, microbes take advantage of the thermal buffering, physical stability, protection against UV radiation, excessive solar radiation, and water retention-of paramount importance in one of the driest environments on Earth. In this work, high-throughput sequencing and culture-dependent approaches have been combined, for the first time, to untangle the diversity and distribution of black fungi in the Antarctic cryptoendolithic microbial communities, hosting some of the most extreme-tolerant microorganisms. Rock samples were collected in a vast area, along an altitudinal gradient and opposite sun exposure-known to influence microbial diversity-with the aim to compare and integrate results gained with the two approaches. Among black fungi, Friedmanniomyces endolithicus was confirmed as the most abundant taxon. Despite the much stronger power of the high-throughput sequencing, several species were not retrieved with DNA sequencing and were detectable by cultivation only. We conclude that both culture-dependent and -independent analyses are needed for a complete overview of black fungi diversity. The reason why some species remain undetectable with molecular methods are speculated upon. The effect of environmental parameters such as sun exposure on relative abundance was clearer if based on the wider biodiversity detected with the molecular approach.
Keywords: Antarctica; black fungi; cryptoendolithic communities; extremophiles; metabarcoding.