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The AAPG/Datapages Combined Publications Database

GCAGS Transactions


Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies Transactions
Vol. 19 (1969), Pages 341-352

Function of the Test in Foraminifera

Donald S. Marszalek, Ramil C. Wright, William W. Hay


Although the tests of foraminifers are extensively used by paleontologists as paleoecologic indicators, very little is known of the ecology of modern foraminifers, and virtually nothing is known of the function of the test. This is surprising and lamentable, because it is environmental forces which have produced the great variety of test forms encountered in modern and ancient assemblages.

Investigation of test-protoplasm relations have been hampered by lack of suitable techniques for making meaningful observations. The scanning electron microscope has at last provided a means of examination of the test on a scale which permits understanding of spatial relations of the test and the living organism. Coupled with experiments and observations on specimens in laboratory culture, the information yielded by studies of test structure and of fixed, frozen and dried protoplasm suggest a general theory of test function:

  1. The most primitive tests are constructed of arenaceous material to provide weight to counteract bouyancy of the protoplasm. The simplest arenaceous tests seem to serve this and no other function.
  2. The test upon elaboration into a tube or series or chambers separated by narrow openings, serves as an effective barrier to retard the effects of unfavorable changes in environmental chemistry.
  3. Further specialization may adapt the test for growth under special physical conditions, such as a certain substrate, or for particular symbiotic conditions, such as the greenhouse function of the test of Elphidium.

The role of the test as a protective device against predation is not yet understood, but this may account for some specialized forms.

The great variety of test form in the foraminifers suggests that many taxa are particularly well adapted for specialized ecologic niches. The fact that the foraminifers are among the hardiest of marine protozoa and almost unique in their ability to withstand changes in the environment indicates that they have developed a highly efficient means of controlling their immediate environment without encystment or metamorphosis; that means is the test.

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