Deteriorating effects of lichen and microbial colonization of carbonate building rocks in the Romanesque churches of Segovia (Spain)


Asunción de los Ríos, Beatriz Cámara, Ma Ángeles García del Cura, Víctor J. Rico, Virginia Galván, Carmen Ascaso
Science of the Total Environment 407 ( 2009 ) 1123 – 1134


In this study, the deterioration effects of lichens and other lithobionts in a temperate mesothermal climate were explored. We examined samples of dolostone and limestone rocks with visible signs of biodeterioration taken from the exterior wall surfaces of four Romanesque churches in Segovia (Spain): San Lorenzo, San Martín, San Millán and La Vera Cruz. Biofilms developing on the lithic substrate were analyzed by scanning electron microscopy. The most common lichen species found in the samples were recorded. Fungal cultures were then obtained from these carbonate rocks and characterized by sequencing Internal Transcribed Spacers (ITS). Through scanning electron microscopy in back-scattered electron mode, fungi (lichenized and non-lichenized) were observed as the most frequent microorganisms occurring at sites showing signs of biodeterioration. The colonization process was especially conditioned by the porosity characteristics of the stone used in these
buildings. While in dolostones, microorganisms mainly occupied spaces comprising the rock's intercrystalline porosity, in bioclastic dolomitized limestones, fungal colonization seemed to be more associated with moldic porosity. Microbial biofilms make close contact with the substrate, and thus probably cause significant deterioration of the underlying materials. We describe the different processes of stone alteration induced by fungal colonization and discuss the implications of these processes for the design of treatments to prevent biodeterioration.