Testing the effect of bioturbation and species abundance upon discrete-depth individual foraminifera analysis

Bryan C. Lougheed*, Brett Metcalfe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


We used a single foraminifera enabled, holistic hydroclimate-to-sediment transient modelling approach to fundamentally evaluate the efficacy of discrete-depth individual foraminifera analysis (IFA) for reconstructing past sea surface temperature (SST) variability from deep-sea sediment archives, a method that has been used, amongst other applications, for reconstructing El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). The computer model environment allows us to strictly control for variables such as SST, foraminifera species abundance response to SST, as well as depositional processes such as sediment accumulation rate (SAR) and bioturbation depth (BD) and subsequent laboratory processes such as sample size and machine error. Examining a number of best-case scenarios, we find that IFA-derived reconstructions of past SST variability are sensitive to all of the aforementioned variables. Running 100 ensembles for each scenario, we find that the influence of bioturbation upon IFA-derived SST reconstructions, combined with typical samples sizes employed in the field, produces noisy SST reconstructions with poor correlation to the original SST distribution in the water. This noise is especially apparent for values near the tails of the SST distribution, which is the distribution region of particular interest in the case of, e.g. ENSO. The noise is further increased in the case of increasing machine error, decreasing SAR and decreasing sample size. We also find poor agreement between ensembles, underscoring the need for replication studies in the field to confirm findings at particular sites and time periods. Furthermore, we show that a species abundance response to SST could in theory bias IFA-derived SST reconstructions, which can have consequences when comparing IFA-derived SST distributions from markedly different mean climate states. We provide a number of idealised simulations spanning a number of SAR, sample size, machine error and species abundance scenarios, which can help assist researchers in the field to determine under which conditions they could expect to retrieve significant results.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1195-1209
Number of pages15
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 25 Feb 2022


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