Throughout the Negev Desert highlands, thousands of ancient petroglyphs sites are susceptible to deterioration processes that may result in the loss of this unique rock art. Therefore, the overarching goal of the current study was to characterize the composition, diversity and effects of microbial colonization of the rocks to find ways of protecting these unique treasures. The spatial organization of the microbial colonizers and their relationships with the lithic substrate were analysed using scanning electron microscopy. This approach revealed extensive epilithic and endolithic colonization and close microbial–mineral interactions. Shotgun sequencing analysis revealed various taxa from the archaea, bacteria and some eukaryotes. Metagenomic coding sequences (CDS) of these microbial lithobionts exhibited specific metabolic pathways involved in the rock elements' cycles and uptake processes. Thus, our results provide evidence for the potential participation of the microorganisms colonizing these rocks during different solubilization and mineralization processes. These damaging actions may contribute to the deterioration of this extraordinary rock art and thus threaten this valuable heritage. Shotgun metagenomic sequencing, in conjunction with the in situ scanning electron microscopy study, can thus be considered an effective strategy to understand the complexity of the weathering processes occurring at petroglyph sites and other cultural heritage assets.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics