Trouble in Paradise? A comparison of 1953 and 2005 benthonic foraminiferal seafloor assemblages at the Ibis Field, offshore eastern Trinidad, West Indies
Keywords: Caribbean, Uvigerina, Pseudononion, Amazon, Orinoco
Abstract. Foraminiferal communities are not static, but change in response to environmental perturbations. Given sufficient time, the change will be recorded in the total (live+dead) seafloor assemblage, from which valuable information regarding environmental trends can be obtained by re-sampling assemblages at the decadal scale.
The seafloor assemblage in the 5 km × 6 km Ibis Field, off southeast Trinidad, first surveyed in 1953, was re-examined in 2005. The fauna had changed markedly between the surveys. Overall increases in the proportional abundances of Uvigerina subperegrina, Ammonia pauciloculata/Rolhausenia rolhauseni and Pseudononion atlanticum indicate an increase in nutrient supply that apparently killed off Cibicidoides pseudoungerianus and Miliolinella subrotunda, and reduced the relative abundance of Hanzawaia concentrica, but did not affect the relative abundance of Cancris sagrai. As shown by similar 1953 and 2005 planktonic/benthonic foraminiferal ratios, the increased nutrient supply impacted on both surface and bottom waters.
Of the six most abundant species in 2005, five showed the same general biogeographical distributions within the field in 1953 and 2005. However, whereas the proportional abundance of Uvigerina subperegrina in 1953 increased southwards, in 2005 it increased northwards.
Trinidad cannot be the source for the nutrient enrichment: the island lies down-current from the Ibis Field. Sources must therefore be sought up-current and to the southeast, in the Amazon, Essequibo and Orinoco river basins, or along the South American shoreline. It is speculated that the nutrient enrichment may be a consequence of increased phytoplankton primary production associated with nitrogen-rich run-off from South American sugarcane plantations, or from flushing of organic carbon from poorly regulated sewage systems or shrimp farms in South America.