Foraminifera; tiny creature that tells many stories

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“The Foraminiferida, because of their small size, great abundance and readily preserved and highly diagnostic shells, are unsurpassed as stratigraphic and paleoecologic tools and as subjects for statistical analysis” – Loeblich & Tappan, 1998


Foraminifera are tiny single-celled creatures that live in all the world’s ocean. Generally, foraminifera are similar to amoebas except for the presence of shell like structure that cover the soft cytoplasm. Records has shown that foraminifera exist even before the beginning era of dinosaurs and giant marine reptiles. Foraminifera have survived million of years of extreme climate change, successfully evolved to adapt each time. Today, scientists have recognised the importance of foraminifera as indicator of paleoecology, pollution and sea-level research. Many research has utilised the living benthic foraminifera to asses the health of marine ecosystem and the potential recovery of coral reef ecosystem. Meanwhile the dead foraminifera which remain as fossil in the sediment is important indicator to tell the story of past environment. Since “The past is the key to the future”, scientist believed that the history discovered through studying the fossil foraminifera might help them understand the future climate event. Today about 4500 genera of modern foraminifera are known and their distribution is closely related to specific environmental conditions.

Major coastal cities are known to somehow contributed to anthropogenic stress of the immediate marine ecology. The changes in ecological condition due to stress also caused changes of the foraminiferal assemblages. In severely affected environment, test (shell) abnormalities in foraminifera are common while in moderately polluted environment, scientist has reported the disappearance of more sensitives species. Besides that, these microfossil also have many application to petroleum geology which make the study of this magnificent creature more compelling.

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Fatin Izzati Minhat
PhD Candidate
Institute of Oceanography and Environment
Universiti Malaysia Terengganu
21030 Kuala Terengganu