Cryptic species of planktonic foraminifera: their effect on palaeoceanographic reconstructions

M. Kucera, Kathryn Darling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Shells of planktonic foraminifera recovered from marine sediments provide a multitude of important palaeoproxies. Most of these proxies are based on the assumption that each morphospecies of planktonic foraminifera represents a genetically continuous species with a unique habitat. Recent discovery of hitherto hidden genetic diversity among modern planktonic foraminifera has significant repercussions on palaeoproxies derived from their fossil shells. We have compiled all available data on this genetic diversity. To date, 33 cryptic genetic types were found in 9 out of the 22 sequenced morphospecies of modern planktonic foraminifera. An examination of this database suggests that cryptic genetic diversity may be a prevalent pattern among modern planktonic foraminifera, but that the total number of cryptic genetic types per morphospecies is not large and that most genetic types show a non–random pattern of distribution in the oceans. Using modern distribution data from the Atlantic Ocean as constraints, the relationship between abundances of three genetic types of Globigerina bulloides and sea–surface temperature has been modelled and this model has been applied to a database of species counts in Atlantic coretops (761 samples). Trials with artificial neural networks (ANNs), the modern analogue technique and Imbrie–Kipp transfer functions showed that the splitting of G. bulloides into three genetic types resulted in substantial reduction in the prediction error rate (by 5 to 34%) and that this improvement was by far greatest in ANN trials (on average more than 20%). We conclude that such a large reduction in error rate occurred because the models resonated with a real pattern in the original data. This study indicates that genetic diversity among planktonic foraminifera may become more of a gift than malaise to palaeoproxies. If it becomes possible to distinguish these genetic types in the fossil record, the accuracy of proxies based on planktonic foraminifera will indeed substantially increase.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)695-718
Number of pages24
JournalPhilosophical Transactions A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Issue number1793
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2002


  • Planktonic Foraminifera
  • DNA
  • Genetic Diversity
  • Palaeoproxies
  • Cryptic Species
  • Transfer Functions


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