Assessing the composition of fragmented agglutinated foraminiferal assemblages in ancient sediments: comparison of counting and area-based methods in Famennian samples (Late Devonian)
Benthic foraminifera have been used as proxies for various paleoenvironmental variables such as food availability, carbon flux from surface waters, microhabitats, and indirectly water depth. Estimating assemblage composition based on morphotypes, as opposed to genus- or species-level identification, potentially loses important ecological information but opens the way to the study of ancient time periods. However, the ability to accurately constrain benthic foraminiferal assemblages has been questioned when the most abundant foraminifera are fragile agglutinated forms, particularly prone to fragmentation. Here we test an alternate method for accurately estimating the composition of fragmented assemblages. The
cumulated area per morphotype method is assessed, i.e., the sum of the area of all tests or fragments of a given morphotype in a sample. The percentage of each morphotype is calculated as a portion of the total cumulated area. Percentages of different morphotypes based on counting and cumulated area methods are compared one by one and analyzed using principal component analyses, a co-inertia analysis, and Shannon diversity indices. Morphotype percentages are further compared to an estimate of water depth based on microfacies description. Percentages of the morphotypes are not related to water depth. In all cases, counting and cumulated area methods deliver highly similar results, suggesting that the less time-consuming traditional counting method may provide robust estimates of assemblages. The size of each morphotype may deliver paleobiological information, for instance regarding biomass, but should be considered carefully due to the pervasive issue of fragmentation.