Climate change is expected to accelerate the microbial degradation of the many extraordinary well-preserved organic archaeological deposits found in the Arctic. This could potentially lead to a major loss of wooden artefacts that are still buried within the region. Here, we carry out the first large-scale investigation of wood degradation within archaeological deposits in the Arctic. This is done based on wooden samples from 11 archaeological sites that are located along a climatic gradient in Western Greenland. Our results show that Ascomycota fungi are causing extensive soft rot decay at all sites regardless of climate and local environment, but the group is diverse and many of the species were only found once. Cadophora species known to cause soft rot in polar environments were the most abundant Ascomycota found and their occurrence in native wood samples underlines that they are present locally. Basidiomycota fungi were also present at all sites. In the majority of samples, however, these aggressive and potentially very damaging wood degraders have caused limited decay so far, probably due to unfavorable growth conditions. The presence of these wood degrading fungi suggests that archaeological wooden artefacts may become further endangered if climate change leads to more favorable growth conditions.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We gratefully acknowledge financial support from the Carlsberg Foundation (CF14-0454 and CF15-0112) and VELUX FONDEN (33813). Special thanks to Hans Harmsen and Christian Koch Madsen from Nunatta Kater-sugaasivia Allagaateqarfialu (Greenland National Museum & Archives) for fieldwork and export permission, to the NOW Project for sample collection in Nuulliit, to Sigrun Kolstad and Inger Heldal from NIBIO for laboratory support, and to research professor Carl Gunnar Fossdal from NIBIO for help with troubleshooting.