Measurements of microbial protection from ultraviolet radiation in polar terrestrial microhabitats
Biological dosimeters made from a monolayer of Bacillus subtilis spores were used to investigate the penetration of ultraviolet radiation into some widespread terrestrial microbial microhabitats at polar latitudes: at Mars Oasis (72 S) and Rothera Station (67 S) (UK) in the Antarctic (November 2000) and on Devon Island, Canadian High Arctic (75degreesN) (July 2000 and 2001). Layers of soil or dust of greater than or equal to500 pm thickness, particularly in ice-free regions of the Arctic, could reduce UV exposure such that no inactivation of spores could be measured after 3 days. Control spores were killed in 24 h. Spores in artificial cryptoendolithic habitats with similar to1 mm rock covering obtained a reduction of UV radiation-induced inactivation of at least 2 orders of magnitude. Hypolithic spores were protected against any inactivation for at least 4 days. Snow covers of between 5 and 15 cm thickness, depending on age and heterogeneity, attenuated UV radiation by an order of magnitude, although snow cover is seasonal and subject to climatic factors. These dosimetric data demonstrate that, except for microbes on the surface of soil grains, many terrestrial microbial communities are well protected from incident UV radiation by a variety of physical and biological coverings. This is in contrast to data reported for many polar aquatic microbial taxa, and might imply a greater robustness of terrestrial microbial communities against the effects of ozone depletion.