The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny...' --Isaac Asimov
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Mojave Desert Sampling

March 25th, 2010 by eric

This week’s sampling trip to Zzyzx station in the Mojave Desert was excellent! I collected samples of hypoliths (light-using microbial communities living on the undersides of rocks), endoliths (light-using microbial communities living within rocks), and desert varnishes and crusts (light-using microbial communities living on the upper surfaces of soils or rocks). These communities are interesting because they are found widely around the world but tend to be composed of similar microbes wherever they are found. Some questions I have include: What determines the biogeography of these communities? How do they disperse between suitable environments near and far? Do they evolve faster than they disperse or disperse faster than they evolve? Is it possible that the core community is able to adapt to both polar deserts like Antarctica and temperate deserts like the Mojave via horizontal gene transfer?

The full set of photos can be found here:

Site 1: hypoliths near an abandoned talc mine near Tecopa, California.


Site 2: desert crust near an outcrop of stromatolites (35.779617 N, 116.125333 W)

Site 3: hypoliths from the slope where we changed a flat tire.

rock field

Site 4: orange varnish on basalts (lava flow) (35.201008 N, 115.871826 W)


Site 5: desert crust near basalt flow (35.185647 N, 115.845122 W)

desert crust



Site 6: endoliths in quartz and carbonates (35.40362 N, 116.290283 W)

breaking rocks on rocks


Site 7: evaporites from Soda Lake (35.151258 N, 116.105061 W)


soda lake

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