Treatment of recent sediment samples - microfossil work

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Recent sediment samples are the easiest to process for microfossil work. This applies especially to samples collected on salt marshes, salt marsh channels and mudflats.

NB - THESE ARE SENSITIVE AREAS WITH A DELICATE ECOLOGICAL BALANCE - NEVER COLLECT ON SSSI'S, NATURE RESERVES ETC WITHOUT PERMISSION. I ALSO MAKE A POINT OF NEVER COLLECTING DURING THE NESTING SEASON. MICROFOSSILS CAN BE PICKED FROM A SMALL SAMPLE - YOU DO NOT NEED A BUCKETFUL! ALSO - SALTMARSHES AND MUDFLATS CAN BE DANGEROUS. USE COMMON SENSE AND DO NOT PUT YOURSELF AT RISK.

1) When collecting, put a small amount of sediment in a clean, zip-lock bag or plastic bottle. Label with indelible ink - locality, grid reference if possible, date. Keep in a fridge or process as soon as possible.

2) Usually, samples are processed by wet sieving (sieves available from UK companies such as BIOTEC); this washes away any salt or fine particulates. It is sometimes interesting to examine the larger stuff for beetle carapaces etc [also SHEEP TICKS - not so nice, especially not when viewed under the microscope!]. I have also used old kitchen sieves/tea strainers for very small samples.

3) The sample can be washed (ideally using distilled water) and stained so that Foraminifera alive at the time can be detected. The sieve and washed residue is placed in a 10% solution of Rose Bengal for 20 minutes and then removed. Wash under a fine spray of water to remove the stain from the sediment. The stain is not necessary - it just allows further ecological/habitat work.

4) The washed residue can then be examined wet in a petri dish or flushed onto a filter paper in a funnel and left to air dry. It can then be put into labelled bottles or zip lock bags.

There are several good websites which help with identifying British saltmarsh foraminifera - I will be adding pictures to this guide in the near future.

Happy picking!

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