Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Marine Science

Major Professor

Pamela Muller, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michal Kučera, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Lisa Robbins, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Amelia Shevenell, Ph.D.

Committee Member

David Naar, Ph.D.


Biostratigraphy, Foraminifera, Micropaleontology, Morphometrics, Stable isotopes


The reliability of foraminifera as stratigraphic index fossils, and as isotopic proxies of marine environments, is based on the assumption that the fossil concepts represent uniform species, responding consistently to their ambient environments. Understanding sources of uncertainty is, therefore, critical. In this dissertation, I explore a potential bias in the application of planktonic foraminifera utilized extensively for Cenozoic paleo-reconstruction and, to a lesser extent, biostratigraphy: the Globigerinoides ruber-elongatus plexus (‘plexus’ meaning a complex network of interconnected members). Taxonomic revisions since 1826 have resulted in the merging of multiple Globigerinoides species names under one general designation (“Globigerinoides ruber”), the implications of which are now under scrutiny. These “morphotypes” of G. ruber have been shown to incorporate stable isotopes and trace elements in seawater dissimilarly, and correspond to multiple genetic species, some of which occupy different environments.

Various criteria exist to sub-divide, group, or distinguish members of the Globigerinoides plexus, most notably the recurring use of Globigerinoides elongatus as a less spherical, less symmetrical counterpart to G. ruber. But the efficacy of these various taxonomic criteria has not been tested quantitatively. Most rely on the traits of visually distinctive “end-members,” while specimens in the morphological “transitional zone” are left to an observer’s subjective interpretation. This prevents quantification in census counts, and may lead to erroneous geochemical analyses. Furthermore, molecular clock estimates suggest that the G. elongatus species evolved significantly later than G. ruber, affecting its potential as a biomarker.

In this dissertation, I examine the potential of a minimal-criteria system for classifying Globigerinoides-type morphologies using only three conditions: final chamber compression, final chamber asymmetry, and aperture compression. Morphometric analyses on specimens grouped according to this new system allow us to assess to what degree visual classification reflects morphospace discontinuity. Armed with this information, I then explore potential isotopic offsets between members of the Globigerinoides plexus, and its use in reconstructing regional differences in climate or habitat influences in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean basins. Finally, having shown that G. ruber and G. elongatus can be reliably visually distinguished, I tracked the species’ fossil presence individually in a deep core from the South China Sea, and confirmed the presence of G. ruber in the South China Sea through the late Miocene, and G. elongatus through the Pleistocene. While it is believed that neither species was traced to its true first occurrence (FO), the relative FO of G. ruber was shown to be 4–5 Ma before G. elongatus

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