The secret ‘after life’ of foraminifera: Big things out of small

Jim Buckman*, Carol Mahoney, Christian März, Thomas Wagner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
60 Downloads (Pure)


Calcareous and siliceous microorganisms are common components of mudrocks, and can be important in terms of stratigraphy and environmental interpretation. In addition, such microorganisms can have a significant ‘after life’, through post-mortem alteration, and represent a potential source of additional information about the diagenetic and deformation history of the rock unit. Some examples of the latter are illustrated in this study from foraminifera within a Cretaceous black shale of Colombia. This includes foraminifera tests acting as understudied repositories of authigenic calcite cement, and of elements such as Ba, Zn, Fe and S through the formation of baryte, sphalerite and iron sulphides (pyrite, marcasite). Such repositories, within the body chambers of foraminiferal tests, can provide important windows into the diagenetic processes within mudstones. If calcite cement is not recognised or separated from biogenic calcite, the depositional calcite budget can be easily overestimated, skewing the application of mudrock classification schemes, and affecting environmental interpretation including that of productivity. The elements Ba, Zn and Fe (often in ratio with Al) are commonly utilised as geochemical proxies of environmental parameters (productivity, bottom water redox conditions, etc.). Therefore, the presence of significant amounts of baryte, sphalerite and pyrite-marcasite (within foraminifera) should be noted and their origins (source and timing) investigated based on their spatial relationships before making environmental deductions based on geochemical analysis alone. Additionally, commonly observed marginal shell damage of many of the observed foraminifera is reported. We interpret this damage, for the first time, as an indicator of lateral dissolution, brought about by horizontal foreshortening during orogenesis. This is also supported by the occurrence of microscale anastomosing horizontal to inclined baryte-filled fractures within the mudstone matrix.

Original languageEnglish
Article number550
Issue number6
Early online date18 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


  • Carbonate
  • Cretaceous
  • Diagenesis
  • Foraminifera
  • Foreshortening
  • Sulphates
  • Sulphides

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Geology


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