Foraminifera Record the Good Years More than the Bad
Abstract:Past ocean conditions are primarily discerned from geochemical and community-based analyses of fossilized taxa, each of which have unique environmental niches and dynamics. A key requirement of such paleoceanographic studies is that some unbiased or well-constrained record of the living ecosystem and climate is deposited on the sea floor and preserved through the post-depositional processes that act to distort them.
It is widely known that foraminiferal species exhibit varying seasonal preferences and that seasonality is a key variable to account for in paleoceanographic reconstructions. However, on longer time scales (> year), it is generally assumed that species record the ‘average’ environmental conditions or typical variance (e.g., El Nino intensity) that existed in a given, time-averaged sediment sample.
Here I examine planktonic foraminiferal population dynamics on yearly and longer time scales, in order to quantify their effect on paleoceanographic reconstructions. Using a previously published record of >250 years of population dynamics in the Santa Barbara Basin sediments, I find that the majority of individuals in a given species lived during a small subset of the total years (~15- 37% of years depending on the species). Populations of shallow, mixed layer species primarily represent the warmest, youngest years, while thermocline species primarily represent the cooler, older years. Importantly, the seasonality of species does not always predict their interannual dynamics. The general importance of long time-scale population dynamics on paleoceanographic reconstructions will also be considered in a theoretical model parameterized with temporally explicit species co-variances and temperature variability. Such modeling is needed to constrain the relative impact that a very good year can have on our interpretation of the 'average' of hundreds to thousands of years.