Bulletin of the National Speleological Society - ISSN 0146-9517
Volume 25 Part 1: 1-14 - January 1963

A publication of the National Speleological Society

Review of the Microbiology of Underground Environments
Victor Caumartin


Studies employing culture methods and optical and electron microscopy have shown that the cave microflora consists of bacteria, actinomycetes, fungi and ultra microscopic forms which are herein described and named microfusiformentum of cave clay. Some species require organic material for their nutrition, whereas other derive their energy wholly from the oxidation of inorganic compounds. Certain areas of caves, marked by the absence of fungi, retain the original microflora which existed before contact between the cave and the surface was established. The remaining areas contain a competing surface and underground microflora. The surface forms are characterized by the chemical reduction of iron and the conversion of organic matter into inorganic compounds; whereas the underground organisms are characterized by the oxidation of iron and sulfur, the fixation of nitrogen, and the systhesis of organic compounds. Reports by other authors of so-called fossil microorganisms extracted and cultured from ancient rocks are believed to be invalidated because most rocks have sufficient porosity and permeability to permit continuous contamination by suitably adapted microorganisms. Caves support a complex microbial life and the idea that bacteria are the only significant cavernicole microorganisms must be rejected.

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