Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Microhabitats of benthic foraminifera within deep-sea sediments


Benthic foraminifera are protozoans found throughout the deep-sea environment, secreting a test of calcium carbonate or constructing a test of cemented sediment particles (agglutinated or arenaceous foraminifera). In typical deep-sea sediments, the organic cement of agglutinated taxa degrades upon burial in the sediment and, consequently, few specimens survive in the fossil record. In contrast, calcareous species are well preserved in most oceanic sediments, except at abyssal depths where most carbonate sediment is dissolved because of high levels of carbonate under-saturation of the bottom waters. Although benthic foraminifera have been widely used in studies of Cenozoic palaeoceanography, little is known about the ecology of deep-sea species. I present here an analysis of living (stained) benthic foraminifera within the upper 15 cm of deep-sea sediments, which reveals species-specific microhabitat preferences, with distinct morphological features found with epifaunal and infaunal species. The existence of infaunal habitats suggests that the distribution of certain foraminifera is not directly controlled by overlying bottom-water conditions, but by physicochemical conditions within the sediments. The microhabitat preferences may also explain interspecific carbon isotope differences, as existing data show that infaunal foraminifera generally have lower δ13C isotope values than epifaunal species.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout


  1. Bandy, O. L. 21st Int. geol. Congr., Copenhagen, Pt 22, 7–25 (1960).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Barr, F. T. & Berggren, W. A. in The Geology of Libya (eds Salem, M. J. & Busrewil, M. T.) 163–192 (Academic, New York, 1981).

    Google Scholar 

  3. Berggren, W. A. & Aubert, J. Geol. Surv. prof. Pap. 1213, 4–21 (1983).

    Google Scholar 

  4. Douglas, R. G. & Woodruff, F. in The Sea Vol. 7 (ed. Emiliani, C.) 1233–1327 (Wiley-Interscience, New York, 1981).

    Google Scholar 

  5. Shackleton, N. J. & Opdyke, N. D. Quat. Res. 3, 39–55 (1973).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Shackleton, N. J. & Opdyke, N. D. Geol. Soc. Am. Mem. 145 (eds Cline R. M & Hays J. D.) 449–464 (1976).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Boyle, E. A. & Keigwin, L. D. Jr Science 218, 784–787 (1982).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Curry, W. B. & Lohmann, G. P. Nature 306, 577–580 (1983).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Shackleton, N. J., Imbrie, J. & Hall, M. A. Earth planet. Sci. Lett. 65, 233–244 (1983).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Woodruff, F., Savin, S. M. & Douglas, R. G. Mar. Micropaleont. 5, 3–11 (1980).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  11. Belanger, P. E., Curry, W. B. & Matthews, R. K. Palaeogeogr., Palaeoclimatol., Palaeoecol. 33, 205–220 (1981).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Grossman, E. L. Palaeogeogr., Palaeoclimatol., Palaeoecol. 47, 301–327 (1984).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Graham, D. W., Corliss, B. H., Bender, M. L. & Keigwin, L. D. Jr Mar. Micropaleont. 6, 483–497 (1981).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  14. Savin, S. M. et al. Mar. Micropaleont. 6, 423–450 (1981).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  15. Keigwin, L. D. Jr Init. Rep. DSDP 68, 445–453 (1982).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Boltovskoy, E. & Wright, R. Recent Foraminifera, 1–515 (Junk, The Hague, 1976).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  17. Boltovskoy, E. Contr. Cushman Fdn Foraminifera Res. 17, 43–45 (1966).

    Google Scholar 

  18. Brooks, A. L. Limnol. Oceanogr. 12, 667–684 (1967).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  19. Schafer, C. T. Limnol. Oceanogr. 16, 944–951 (1971).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  20. Ellison, R. L. Geol. Soc. Am. Mem. 133, 247–262 (1972).

    Google Scholar 

  21. Matera, N. J. & Lee, J. J. Mar. Biol. 14, 89–103 (1972).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Frankel, L. J. Paleont. 46, 62–65 (1972).

    Google Scholar 

  23. Frankel, L. J. Paleont. 49, 563–565 (1975).

    Google Scholar 

  24. Ellison, R. L. & Peck, G. E. J. Foram. Res. 13 (4), 231–241 (1983).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Leutenegger, S. & Hansen, H. J. Mar. Biol. 54, 11–16 (1979).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Froelich, P. N. et al. Geochim. cosmochim. Acta 43, 1075–1090 (1979).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  27. Berner, R. R. in The Environment of the Deep Sea (eds Ernst, W. G. & Morin, J. G.) 154–176 (Prentice-Hall, Hemel Hempstead, 1982).

    Google Scholar 

  28. Sayles, F. L. Geochim. cosmochim. Acta 45, 1061–1086 (1981).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  29. Douglas, R. G. & Heitman, H. L. SEPM spec. Publ. 27, 231–246 (1979).

    Google Scholar 

  30. McCorckle, D. C. & Emerson, S. R. EOS 64, 721 (1983).

    Google Scholar 

  31. Shackleton, N. J., Hall, M. A. & Boersma, A. Init. Rep. DSDP. 74, 599–612 (1984).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Corliss, B. Microhabitats of benthic foraminifera within deep-sea sediments. Nature 314, 435–438 (1985).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing