The University of Arizona

Impact-induced impoverishment and transformation of a sandstone habitat for lithophytic microorganisms



Sandstones are a common habitat for lithophytic microorganisms, including cryptoendoliths. We describe laboratory experiments on the colonization of impact metamorphosed sandstones from the Haughton impact structure, Canadian High Arctic. Colonization experiments with the coccoid cyanobacterium, Chroococcidiopsis sp. and the motile gram-positive bacterium Bacillus subtilis, show that, in contrast to initially low porosity crystalline target rocks, which can become more porous as a result of impact bulking, by closing pore spaces the sedimentary cryptoendolithic habitat can be impoverished by impact. However, the heterogeneous distribution of collapsed pores, melt phases, and subsequent recrystallization, results in heterogeneous colonization patterns. Cavities and vesicles formed during melting can yield new habitats for both cryptoendoliths and chasmoendoliths, manifested in the natural cryptoendolithic colonization of shocked sandstones. By contrast, post-impact thermal annealing and recrystallization of impact melt phases destroys the cavities and vesicles. In extreme cases, complete recrystallization of the rock fabric makes the material suitable only for epilithic, and potentially hypolithic, colonists. These experiments further our understanding of the influence of the target lithology on the effects of asteroid and comet impacts on habitats for lithophytic microorganisms.


Biological activity;impact cratering;shock effect

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