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"Foraminifera have been utilised for biostratigraphy for many years, and they have also proven invaluable in palaeoenvironmental reconstructions most recently for palaeoceanographical and palaeoclimatological purposes. For example palaeobathymetry, where assemblage composition is used and palaeotemperature where isotope analysis of foraminifera tests is a standard procedure. In terms of biostratigraphy, foraminifera have become extremely useful, different forms have shown evolutionary bursts at different periods and generally if one form is not available to be utilised for biostratigraphy another is. For example preservation of calcareous walled foraminifera is dependent on the depth of the water column and Carbonate Compensation Depth (the depth below which dissolution of calcium carbonate exceeds the rate of its deposition), if calcareous walled foraminifera are therefore not preserved agglutinated forms may be. The oldest rocks for which foraminifera have been biostratigraphically useful are Upper Carboniferous to Permian strata, which have been zoned using the larger benthic fusulinids. Planktic foraminifera have become increasingly important biostratigraphic tools, especially as petroleum exploration has extended to offshore environments of increasing depths. The first and last occurrence of distinctive "marker species" from the Cretaceous to Recent (particularly during the Upper Cretaceous) has allowed the development of a well established fine scale biozonation.

Benthic foraminifera have been used for palaeobathymetry since the 1930's and modern studies utilise a variety of techniques to reconstruct palaeodepths. For studies of relatively recent deposits simple comparison to the known depth distribution of modern extant species is used. For older material changes in species diversity, planktic to benthic ratios, shell-type ratios and test morpholgy have all been utilised. Variations in the water temperature inferred from oxygen isotopes from the test calcite can be used to reconstruct palaeoceanographic conditions by careful comparison of changes in oxygen isotope levels as seen in benthic forms (for bottom waters) and planktic forms(for mid to upper waters). This type of study has allowed the reconstruction of oceanic conditions during the Eocene-Oligocene, the Miocene and the Quaternary. Benthic foraminifera have been divided into morphogroups based on the test shape and these groups used to infer palaeo-habitats and substrates; infaunal species tending to be elongate and streamlined in order to burrow into the substrate and epifaunal species tending to be more globular with one relatively flatter side in order to facilitate movement on top of the substrate. It should be remembered, however, that a large variety of morphologies and possible habitats have been recognised making such generalisations of only limited use. Studies of modern foraminifera have recognised correlations between test wall type (for instance porcelaneous, hyaline, agglutinated), palaeodepths and salinity by plotting them onto triangular diagrams." (from MIRACLE site

Fabulous Foraminifera: examining past climates using microscopic marine organisms by Barbara Manighetti & Lisa Northcote in Water & Atmosphere, Vol. 8(3), © NIWA 2000

  • Foraminifera are used in the oil and gas industry as indicators of diagenesis, thus, conditions favorable for hydrocarbon formation. Agglutinated foraminifera (their organic matrix) become darker with age and thermal pressure through time.