Wood-Destroying Soft Rot Fungi in the Historic Expedition Huts of Antarctica

Robert A. Blanchette, Benjamin W. Held, Joel A. Jurgens, Douglas L. McNew, Thomas C. Harrington, Shona M. Duncan, Roberta L. Farrell

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Three expedition huts in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica, built between 1901 and 1911 by Robert F. Scott and Ernest Shackleton, sheltered and stored the supplies for up to 48 men for 3 years during their explorations and scientific investigation in the South Pole region. The huts, built with wood taken to Antarctica by the early explorers, have deteriorated over the past decades. Although Antarctica has one of the coldest and driest environments on earth, microbes have colonized the wood and limited decay has occurred. Some wood in contact with the ground contained distinct microscopic cavities within secondary cell walls caused by soft rot fungi. Cadophora spp. could be cultured from decayed wood and other woods sampled from the huts and artifacts and were commonly associated with the soft rot attack. By using internal transcribed spacer sequences of ribosomal DNA and morphological characteristics, several species of Cadophora were identified, including C. malorum, C. luteo-olivacea, and C. fastigiata. Several previously undescribed Cadophora spp. also were found. At the Cape Evans and Cape Royds huts, Cadophora spp. commonly were isolated from wood in contact with the ground but were not always associated with soft rot decay. Pure cultures of Cadophora used in laboratory decay studies caused dark staining of all woods tested and extensive soft rot in Betula and Populus wood. The presence of Cadophora species, but only limited decay, suggests there is no immediate threat to the structural integrity of the huts. These fungi, however, are widely found in wood from the historic huts and have the capacity to cause extensive soft rot if conditions that are more conducive to decay become common.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1328-1335
Number of pages8
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2004


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