Sciences in Cold and Arid Regions ›› 2021, Vol. 13 ›› Issue (6): 522-532.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1226.2021.20102

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Seasonal variation of airborne fungi of the Tiantishan Grottoes and Western Xia Museum, Wuwei, China

YuLong Duan1,5,FaSi Wu2,3,DongPeng He2,4,RuiHong Xu2,HuYuan Feng3,Tuo Chen1,GuangXiu Liu1,WanFu Wang1,2,3()   

  1. 1.Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou, Gansu 730000, China
    2.National Research Center for Conservation of Ancient Wall Paintings and Earthen Sites, Dunhuang Academy, Dunhuang, Gansu 736200, China
    3.MOE Key Laboratory of Cell Activities and Stress Adaptations, School of Life Sciences, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou, Gansu 730000, China
    4.School of Environment and Municipal Engineering, Lanzhou Jiaotong University, Lanzhou, Gansu 730000, China
    5.Naiman Desertification Research Station, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Tongliao, Inner Mongolia 028300, China
  • Received:2020-12-22 Accepted:2021-04-21 Online:2021-12-31 Published:2022-01-11
  • Contact: WanFu Wang
  • Supported by:
    the National Natural Science Foundation of China(32060258);Science and Technology Plan of Gansu Province(20YF8WF016);the "Light of West China" Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Project of Gansu Cultural Relics Bureau(GWJ202011)


In this study, a systematic survey of cultural airborne fungi was carried out in the occurrence environments of wall paintings that are preserved in the Tiantishan Grottoes and the Western Xia Museum, China. A bio-aerosol sampler was used for sampling in four seasons in 2016. Culture-dependent and -independent methods were taken to acquire airborne fungal concentration and purified strains; by the extraction of genomic DNA, amplification of fungal ITS rRNA gene region, sequencing, and phylogenetic analysis, thereafter the fungal community composition and distribution characteristics of different study sites were clarified. We disclosure the main environmental factors which may be responsible for dynamic changes of airborne fungi at the sampling sites. The concentration of cultural airborne fungi was in a range from 13 to 1,576 CFU/m3, no significant difference between the two sites at the Tiantishan Grottoes, with obvious characteristics of seasonal variation, in winter and spring were higher than in summer and autumn. Also, there was a significant difference in fungal concentration between the inside and outside of the Western Xia Museum, the outside of the museum was far more than the inside of the museum in the four seasons, particularly in the winter. Eight fungal genera were detected, including Cladosporium, Penicillium, Alternaria, and Filobasidium as the dominant groups. The airborne fungal community structures of the Tiantishan Grottoes show a distinct characteristic of seasonal variation and spatial distribution. Relative humidity, temperature and seasonal rainfall influence airborne fungal distribution. Some of the isolated strains have the potential to cause biodeterioration of ancient wall paintings. This study provides supporting information for the pre-warning conservation of cultural relics that are preserved at local sites and inside museums.

Key words: airborne fungi, community characteristics, ancient wall paintings, monitoring and pre-warning

Figure 1

Four sampling sites for airborne fungi at the Tiantishan Grottoes and the Western Xia Museum. (a) Location of the Tiantishan Grottoes in Gansu Province; (b-c) Caves 13 and 18 of the Tiantishan Grottoes, respectively; (d-e) Inside and outside of the Western Xia Museum, respectively"

Table 1

Total airborne fungi (CFU/m3) enumerated onPDA agar plates from the four sites"

Sampling sitesMeanMedianMinimumMaximum
TT18559 ± 81b561226887
TT13504 ± 43bc475374689
TMO1,057 ± 117a9008521,576
TMI291 ± 74c23813674
Sum603 ± 57525131,576

Figure 2

Fungi concentrations (CFU/m3) at the four sites in different seasons (April, June, October, December). Different lower-case letters indicate significant differences (P <0.05) among different sampling sites in different season"

Table 2

Pearson correlation analysis for fungal concentrations (CFU/m3) and environmental parameters"

FactorsT (℃)RHRainfall (mm)

Figure 3

Phylogenetic tree of airborne fungi based on ITS sequences"

Figure 4

Proportions of fungal genera detected inatmosphere environment of the TiantishanGrottoes and the Western Xia Museum"

Figure 5

Seasonal changes in Shannon-Weiner index ofairborne fungal communities at the four sampling sites"

Figure 6

Relative abundance of the dominant fungal genera at the four sites"

Figure 7

Canonical correlation analysis for fungal communities and environmental parameters from the four sites in different seasons"

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