Larger Foraminifera: an International Training Course in Applied
Palaeontology of Shallow Water Carbonate Environments

Larger foraminifera are a particularly attractive biological system to date marine shallow water successions, to reconstruct shallow marine environments, and to experiment with evolutionary change over geological time. Larger foraminifera are the most important among the few groups of organisms that can be identified in random sections of cemented rocks to genus and eventually also to species level. However, the correct identification of the shell structures exhibited in their random sections is not easy and requires some fundamental training.

For the use of this unique system, an International Training Course took place, from July 2nd-14th 2001, at the University of Savoie in Chambéry, France. The course, organised by Annie Arnaud-Vanneau (Université Joseph Fourier, Grenoble), consisted of 12 days lectures held by micropaleontologists coming from various european institutions. Lukas Hottinger (Natural History Museum of Basel, Switzerland) together with A. Arnaud, Esmeralda Caus (Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain), Martin Langer (Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn, Germany), and Ursula Leppig (University of Freiburg/Breisgau, Germany) provided the frontal teaching and assisted the participants in their practical work.Some participants presented particular aspects of their own work, stimulating contributions for discussion among the participants without interference by the teaching staff.

The course focused on structural analysis of complex shell structures, many of them having a functional meaning while their diversity is restricted by biological constraints. Thus, biostratigraphical, biological and ecological aspects of structural patterns and their generation were discussed in order to enhance understanding of the relevant processes involved.

The morphological evolution of the shell follows well defined adaptive trends, that can be quantified and interpreted as adaptations in the context of morphogenetic, biological and ecological understanding. In marine, shallow water sediments, the larger foraminifera are by far the most reliable group of fossils available for high-resolution biostratigraphy and detailed paleoecological interpretation of the sediments. Today, the state of knowledge leads far beyond a descriptive illustration of the various microfacies from different periods of geological time to an understanding of the sediments and of the biological meaning of their microfossil constituents. However, a correct recognition of structural traits in the foraminiferal shell needs an appropriate understanding of the three-dimensional structural patterns involved.

Twenty participants from eight countries on three continents attended the course. Frontal teaching, demonstrations, a one-day excursion to the field and practical exercises in structural analysis based on random sections of shells in cemented rock, on free material and on hard rock samples, were held. Particular success had the discussion in groups of participants of selected random sections of foraminiferal shells projected on a screen. Two partcipants came from the Petroleum Industry. Used to technical schools, they were not happy with the more academic approach to the subject in this course. It will be necessary to elaborate an optimal equilibrium satisfying the technical needs of industrial practice on one hand, the needs of scientific understanding (including the use of the scientific world literature in different languages) on the other. All participants passed a final examination with moderate to good success. The results of the exams and of the course evaluation sheets will permit to enhance the teaching of this subject in subsequent courses.

This course was the fifth of a series initiated in Basel (Switzerland) in 1993. Subsequently, an other three courses alternatively dealing with palaeoecology and palaeobiology were held respectively in Basel (1994), Piran (1995, Slovenia), and Basel (1996).

A sixth course regarding facies analysis and palaeoecology of large foraminiferal shallow water successions is in preparation for summer or autumn 2003, presumably in Tremp, Northern Spain. Further information will be given in due time in the newsletters and web sites of Paleonet.

Davide Bassi
(University of Ferrara, Italy)