Response of Benthic Foraminiferal Size to Oxygen Concentration in Antarctic Sediment Cores

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Daniel Guo, Caitlin Keating-Bitonti and Jonathan Payne, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, United States
Oxygen availability is important for biological reactions and the demand of oxygen is determined by the size of the organism. Few marine organisms can tolerate low oxygen conditions, but benthic foraminifera, a group of amoeboid protists that are highly sensitive to environmental factors, are known to live in these conditions. Benthic foraminifera may be able to live in oxygen stressed environments by changing the size and shape of their test. Low oxygen concentrations should favor smaller, thinner-shelled, flattened test morphologies. We hypothesize that the volume-to-surface area ratio of benthic foraminifera will decrease with decreasing dissolved oxygen concentrations. To test this hypothesis, we picked two calcareous species (Epistominella exigua and Cassulinoides porrectus) and one agglutinated species (Portatrochammina antarctica) from three sediment cores collected from Explorer’s Cove, Antarctica. Starting at the sediment-water interface, each core spans approximately 5-8 cm of depth. Profiles of dissolved oxygen concentrations were measured at the time of collection. At specific depths within the cores, we measured the three dimensions of picked foraminiferal tests using NIS-Elements. We calculated the volume and surface area of the tests assuming the shape of the foraminifers was an ellipsoid. The size trends of E. exigua confirm our hypothesis that the test volume-to-surface area ratios correlate positively with dissolved oxygen concentrations (p-value < 0.001). However, the size trends of the other species refute our hypothesis: P. antarctica shows no correlation and C. porrectus shows a negative correlation (p-value < 0.001) to dissolved oxygen concentrations. Thus, our results show that the change in size in response to variations in dissolved oxygen concentrations is species dependent. Moreover, we find that calcareous species are more sensitive to oxygen fluctuations than agglutinated species.