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Document Type

Book Chapter


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Charles T. Schafer, Bernard R. Pelletier

Publication Date


Book Title

First International Symposium on Benthonic Foraminifera of Continental Margins Part A. Ecology and Biology


Maritime Sediments


Halifax, Nova Scotia


Maritime Sediments Special Publication No. 1


Estuaries are highly variable coastal ecosystems. Some of the variation is seasonal and some is longitudinal along the environmental gradient from the river to the sea. Foraminifera are tuned to the periodicity, and a progressive change in the composition and structure of foraminiferal faunas parallels the longitudinal ecocline, identified by the gradient in salinity.

In marshes and tributary estuaries where water is fresh, thecamoebinids comprise the microfauna. Three other marsh faunas are composed chiefly of the agglutinate species: Ammoastuta salsa, Miliammina fusca, Arenoparrella mexicana, Alllmobaculites crassus and species of Haplophragmoides and Trochammina. Their distribution is influenced by salinity and exposure. In the estuaries, where fresh and salt water mix:, two faunas are characterized by: Anmlobaculites crassus, in the middle and upper reaches where salinity is less than about 15 % and the estuary is periodically freshened by river flushing, and by Elphidim clavatum in lower reaches and deeper channels where salinity is higher and mixing is moderate. Elphidium, furthermore, dominates the faunas in the lower part of Chesapeake Bay and, on the inner part of the shelf. At a depth of about 25 m the Elphidium fauna is succeeded by a larger and more diverse fauna that may be partly relict.

The marsh and estuarine faunas shift headward and mouthward with changing river inflow and salinity, and their changes are recorded in cores of estuarine and marsh deposits. Short-term events and paleoclimatic episodes with durations of several hundred years are superimposed on a long-term trend of decreasing salinity during the past 6,000 years as sedimentary infilling exceeded the rise in sea level.

Modern and Holocene formanifera in the Chesapeake Bay region