The roles of elevation and salinity as primary controls on living foraminiferal distributions: Cowpen Marsh, Tees Estuary, UK.

TitleThe roles of elevation and salinity as primary controls on living foraminiferal distributions: Cowpen Marsh, Tees Estuary, UK.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsHorton B, Murray JW
JournalMarine Micropaleontology
Date Published06/2007
Keywordselevation, Foraminifera, salinity, Salt marsh, Sea level, time series, UK

Benthic foraminiferal assemblages in subrecent deposits are commonly used to reconstruct past sea level. Interpretations are generally made by comparison with either modern dead or total (live plus dead) assemblages. In both cases there will have been post-mortem changes that have differentially affected preservation. It is therefore important to establish the primary ecological controls by analysis of the living assemblages. We have determined the spatial and temporal variability of intertidal benthic foraminifera in the surface (0–1 cm) sediments from a time series survey of 31 sampling stations at Cowpen Marsh, for a period of 12 months. We counted 112,067 live foraminifera assigned to 28 species. The fauna was dominated by two agglutinated species (Jadammina macrescens and Trochammina inflata) on the high and middle marshes, and three calcareous species (Elphidium williamsoni,Haynesina germanica and Quinqueloculina spp.) on the low marsh and tidal flat.

The standing crop of the whole intertidal zone, including the high, middle, low marsh and tidal flat habitats, and the individual species varied both temporally and spatially. The standing crop of the intertidal zone as a whole was greatest in the summer months and showed a positive correlation with elevation. The standing crops of the high and middle marshes showed similar temporal variation with peaks in summer and autumn and a trough in winter. The low marsh showed numerous peaks and troughs of standing crop during the year, whereas the tidal flat showed a single peak in summer. The standing crops ofJadammina macrescens and Trochammina inflata on the high and middle marshes peaked from April to May and August to October with troughs in winter. These agglutinated species showed a strong correlation with elevation. Haynesina germanica peaked in May to August and November to January on the low marsh, whereas on the tidal flat there was a single peak in July. The standing crops of E. williamsoni on the low marsh and tidal flat were relatively high in June and May, and July, respectively. Quinqueloculina spp. peaked in May to July on the low marsh and July on the tidal flat. The species was also found in the middle marsh from July to May and high marsh from September to November. Haynesina germanica showed a strong negative correlation with elevation, whereas the other two dominant calcareous species demonstrated weak negative correlations with both elevation and salinity.

Reconstructing former sea level depends primarily on the recognition of high and middle marsh assemblages and in this study these are shown to be strongly controlled by elevation rather than salinity. Caution may be needed in interpreting low marsh and tidal flat data as salinity plays a more important role here.