European caves contain some of the world’s greatest Paleolithic paintings, and their conservation is at risk due to the use of artificial lighting. Both lighting and high CO2 promotes the growth of phototrophic organisms on walls, speleothems and ground sediments. In addition, the combined effect of increases in CO2, vapor concentration and temperature variations induced by visitors can directly affect the development of corrosion processes on the cave rock surfaces. An early detection of the occurrence of phototrophic biofilms on Paleolithic paintings is of the utmost importance, as well as knowing the microorganisms involved in the colonization of rocks and walls. Knowledge of the colonizing species and their ecology will allow the adoption of control measures. However, this is not always possible due to the limited amount of biomass available for molecular analyses. Here, we present an alternative approach to study faint green biofilms of Chlorophyta in the initial stage of colonization on the Polychrome Panel in El Castillo Cave, Cantabria, Spain. The study of the biofilms collected on the rock art panel and in the ground sediments revealed that the lighting of the cave promoted the development of the green algae Jenufa and Coccomyxa, as well as of complex prokaryotic and eukaryotic communities, including amoebae, their endoparasites and associated bacteria and fungi. The enrichment method used is proposed as a tool to overcome technical constraints in characterizing biofilms in the early stages, allowing a preliminary characterization before deciding for direct or indirect interventions in the cave.
Keywords: biofilms, caves, Cholophyta, Coccomyxa, Jenufa, lampenflora, Neochlamydia, Paleolithic paintings, show cave conservation, Vermamoeba vermiformis