In the current study, five phototrophic biofilms from different Southern Europe limestone monuments were characterised by molecular techniques and cultivated under laboratory conditions. Phototrophic biofilms were collected from Orologio Tower in Martano (Italy), Santa Clara-a-Velha Monastery and Ajuda National Palace, both in Portugal, and Seville and Granada Cathedrals from Spain. The biofilms were grown under laboratory conditions and periodically sampled in order to monitor their evolution over a three-month period. Prokaryotic communities from natural samples and cultivated biofilms were monitored using denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) of PCR-amplified 165 rRNA gene fragments in conjunction with clone sequencing and phylogenetic analysis. DNA-based molecular analysis of 165 rRNA gene fragments from the natural green biofilms revealed complex and different communities composition with respect to phototrophic microorganisms. The biofilms from Orologio Tower (Martano, Italy) and Santa Clara-a-Velha Monastery (Coimbra, Portugal) were dominated by the microalga Chlorella. The cyanobacterium Chroococcidiopsis was the dominating genus from Ajuda National Palace biofilm (Lisbon, Portugal). The biofilms from Seville and Granada Cathedrals (Spain) were both dominated by the cyanobacterium Pleurocapsa. The DGGE analysis of the cultivated biofilms showed that the communities developed differently in terms of species establishment and community composition during the three-month incubation period. The biofilm culture from Coimbra (Portugal) showed a remarkable stability of the microbial components of the natural community in laboratory conditions. With this work, a multiple-species community assemblage was obtained for further stone colonisation experiments. (C) 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.