The NSS Bulletin - ISSN 1090-6924
Volume 56 Number 1: 38-45 - June 1994

A publication of the National Speleological Society

A Study of Fungi of Remote Sediments in West Virginia Caves and a Comparison with Reported Species in the Literature
John M. Rutherford and Liang H. Huang


This project was an attempt to determine whether populations of microflora could be used to identify uniquely remote (ancient) cave sediments via their microfloral "fingerprints." If so, then cross-correlations could perhaps be made with other sediments in the same or other regional caves, ultimately leading to the establishment of stratigraphic sequences in the karst region. Culture studies of samples obtained from large caves of the Greenbrier Karst of West Virginia revealed a variety of bacteria, actinomycetes, and fungi. Actinomycetes were dominated by members of Nocardia and Streptomyces, followed by Actinomadura, Pseudonocardia, and Thermoactinomyces. A total of 35 fungal taxa was isolated, varying from four to eleven per sediment, including eight that could not be identifed to the species level and may include undescribed forms. Present in these isolates were 20 genera, represented by 31 deuteromycetes, two members of the Mastigomycotina, and one ascomycete. Mycelia Sterilia were the most prominent forms, followed in decreasing order by Aspergillus aureolatus, Byssochlamys fulva, Penicillium steckii, Gliocladium roseum, Paecilomyces varioti, Mortierella alpina, Aspergillus caespitoses, and Fusarium oxysporum. The similarity between these microfloral fungi and those of desert or tropical soils is discussed. Reproducibility problems due to sample heterogeneity prevent establishment of the desired microfloral fingerprints of the sediments studied. Many fungi not previously reported from caves were found, and a preliminary comparison of these taxa with those reported in the scattered literature suggests the latter do not provide a representative picture of indigenous cave fungi remote from the entrances. Attempts to isolate the pathogen Histoplasma capsulatum were unsuccessful.

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