The historic expedition huts located in the Ross Sea Region of the Antarctic and the thousands of artifacts left behind by the early explorers represent important cultural heritage from the "Heroic Era" of Polar exploration. The hut at Cape Royds built by Ernest Shackleton and members of the 1907-1908 British Antarctic Expedition has survived the extreme Antarctic environment for over 100 years, but recent studies have shown many forms of deterioration are causing serious problems, and microbial degradation is evident in the historic wood. Conservation work to reduce moisture at the hut required removal of fodder, wood, and many different types of organic materials from the stables area on the north side of the structure allowing large numbers of samples to be obtained for these investigations. In addition, wood from historic food storage boxes exposed in a ravine adjacent to the hut were also sampled. Fungi were cultured on several different media, and pure cultures were obtained and identified by sequencing of the internal transcribed spacer region of rDNA. From the 69 cultures of filamentous fungi obtained, the most predominant genera were Cadophora (44%) followed by Thielavia (17%) and Geomyces (15%). Other fungi found included Cladosporium, Chaetomium, and isolates identified as being in Pezizomycotina, Onygenales, Nectriaceae, and others. No filamentous basidiomycetes were found. Phylogenetic analyses of the Cadophora species showed great species diversity present revealing Cadophora malorum, Cadophora luteo-olivacea, Cadophora fastigiata, as well as Cadophora sp. 4E71-1, a C. malorum-like species, and Cadophora sp. 7R16-1, a C. fastigiata-like species. Scanning electron microscopy showed extensive decay was present in the wood samples with type 1 and type 2 forms of soft rot evident in pine and birch wood, respectively. Fungi causing decay in the historic wooden structures and artifacts are of great concern, and this investigation provides insight into the identity and species diversity of fungi found at the site. The historic woods and other organic materials at this site represent a large input of carbon into the Antarctic environment. This as well as nutrient additions from the nearby Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) colony and favorable conditions for fungal growth at Cape Royds appear responsible for the significant fungal diversity, and where extensive decay is taking place in wood in contact with the ground.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank Nigel Watson and conservators of the Antarctic Heritage Trust for their support and cooperation during this study, support personnel of Scott Base and McMurdo Station for their assistance in conducting this research in Antarctica, and Antarctica New Zealand and National Science Foundation for logistic support. We also thank David Harrowfield and Adam Wild for their helpful suggestions to the manuscript. This research is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Grant No. 0537143.