Marine Science Faculty Publications

Foraminifera as Bioindicators in Coral Reef Assessment and Monitoring: The Foram Index

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Conference Proceeding

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bioindicators, coral reefs, Foraminifera, zooxanthellae, algal symbiosis

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Coral reef communities are threatened worldwide. Resource managers urgently need indicators of the biological condition of reef environments that can relate data acquired through remote-sensing, water-quality and benthic-community monitoring to stress responses in reef organisms. The “FORAM” (Foraminifera in Reef Assessment and Monitoring) Index (FI) is based on 30 years of research on reef sediments and reef-dwelling larger foraminifers. These shelled protists are ideal indicator organisms because:

  • Foraminifers are widely used as environmental and paleoenvironmental indicators in many contexts;
  • Reef-building, zooxanthellate corals and foraminifers with algal symbionts have similar water-quality requirements;
  • The relatively short life spans of foraminifers as compared with long-lived colonial corals facilitate differentiation between long-term water-quality decline and episodic stress events;
  • Foraminifers are relatively small and abundant, permitting statistically significant sample sizes to be collected quickly and relatively inexpensively, ideally as a component of comprehensive monitoring programs; and
  • Collection of foraminifers has minimal impact on reef resources.

USEPA guidelines for ecological indicators are used to evaluate the FI. Data required are foraminiferal assemblages from surface sediments of reef-associated environments. The FI provides resource managers with a simple procedure for determining the suitability of benthic environments for communities dominated by algal symbiotic organisms. The FI can be applied independently, or incorporated into existing or planned monitoring efforts. The simple calculations require limited computer capabilities and therefore can be applied readily to reef-associated environments worldwide. In addition, the foraminiferal shells collected can be subjected to morphometric and geochemical analyses in areas of suspected heavy-metal pollution, and the data sets for the index can be used with other monitoring data in detailed multidimensional assessments.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Foraminifera as Bioindicators in Coral Reef Assessment and Monitoring: The Foram Index, in B. D. Melzian, V. Engle, M. McAlister, S. Sandhu & L. K. Eads (Eds.), Coastal Monitoring through Partnerships: Proceedings of the Fifth Symposium on the Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP), Springer, p. 221-238