Ecological studies of benthic foraminifera are carried out to explain patterns of distribution and the dynamics of communities. They are also used to provide data to establish proxy relationships with selected factors. According to niche theory, the patterns of distribution of benthic foraminifera are controlled by those environmental factors that have reached their critical thresholds. For each species, in variable environments, different factors may be limiting distributions both temporally and spatially. For a species or an assemblage to be useful as a proxy its abundance must show a strong correlation with the chosen factor. Since numerous factors influence each species, it is only in those environments where the majority of factors show little variation but one particular factor shows significant variation that the proxy relationship for that factor can be determined. On theoretical grounds, the reliability of using foraminiferal abundance as a proxy of a selected environmental factor should be restricted to the range close to the upper and lower thresholds. For oxygen, foraminifera are potential proxies for the lower limits but once oxygen levels rise to values of perhaps >1 or 2 ml l-1, there is no longer a relationship between oxygen levels and abundance. By contrast, the flux of organic matter over a large range shows a sufficiently close relationship with foraminiferal assemblages so that transfer functions can be derived for the deep sea. However, the relationship at species level is far less clear cut. Much more accurate estimates of primary productivity and modern organic flux rates are required to improve the determination of past flux rates
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