Vertical distribution of living mangrove foraminifera from KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Modern foraminiferal assemblage zones can be used to reconstruct palaeo sea levels when applied to fossil foraminifera down a sediment core. Previous intertidal foraminiferal studies have predominantly focused on assemblages in surface sediments (0–1 cm), with the rationale that surface assemblages reflect the modern-day environment. Foraminifera live infaunally and therefore there is a need to document the infaunal vertical distribution of living foraminifera to fully capture the modern environment. Infaunal foraminiferal populations may compositionally differ from or be similar to those in the uppermost 1 cm of a core sample, but abundance is variable vertically, making it very complex to reconstruct and interpret past sea levels. This can have implications for the choice of assemblages to use as modern analogues for past sea-level reconstructions. This study documents the vertical infaunal distribution of living foraminifera, to allow for more informed interpretations of palaeo-reconstructions in mangrove environments. The down-core vertical distribution and abundance of living foraminifera, along with grain size and organic content, were documented using sediment cores along an elevational transect. Nine taxa were recorded as living at the time of collection, six of which were restricted to the top 4 cm. The majority of these were calcareous and found in the cores situated closer to the intertidal channel. Therefore, we argue that the diversity of living calcareous and agglutinated foraminifera could be restricted by grain size, with coarser grain sizes associated with lower species diversity. The findings suggest that foraminiferal species inhabiting the top 4 cm represent deeper living foraminiferal populations. Therefore, the top 4-cm interval can be used to establish a modern training set upon which reconstructions can be based. The findings from this study will provide guidance on the use of South African mangrove environments for future sea-level reconstructions.
Keywords: foraminifera tests, grain size, infaunal distribution, modern analogues, sea-level reconstruction, stratigraphic transect, taphonomy, Umlalazi Estuary