The Galapagos Islands (Ecuador) have a unique ecosystem on Earth due to their outstanding biodiversity and geological features. This also extends to their subterranean heritage, such as volcanic caves, with plenty of secondary mineral deposits, including coralloid-type speleothems and moonmilk deposits. In this study, the bacterial communities associated with speleothems from two lava tubes of Santa Cruz Island were investigated. Field emission scanning electron microscopy (FESEM) was carried out for the morphological characterization and detection of microbial features associated with moonmilk and coralloid speleothems from Bellavista and Royal Palm Caves. Microbial cells, especially filamentous bacteria in close association with extracellular polymeric substances (EPS), were abundant in both types of speleothems. Furthermore, reticulated filaments and Actinobacteria-like cells were observed by FESEM. The analysis of 16S rDNA revealed the presence of different bacterial phylotypes, many of them associated with the carbon, nitrogen, iron and sulfur cycles, and some others with pollutants. This study gives insights into subsurface microbial diversity of the Galapagos Islands and further shows the interest of the conservation of these subterranean geoheritage sites used as show caves.
Keywords: volcanic caves, reticulated filaments, bacteria, Actinobacteria, biofilms