Living (Rose Bengal stained) benthic foraminifera were collected with a multicorer from six stations between 2°N and 12°S off West Africa. The foraminiferal communities in the investigated area reflect the direct influence of different productivity regimes, and are characterized by spatially and seasonally varying upwelling activity. At five stations, foraminiferal abundance coincides well with the gradient of surface productivity. However, at one station off the Congo River, the influence of strong fresh water discharge is documented. Although this station lies directly in the center of an upwelling area, foraminiferal standing stocks are surprisingly low. It is suggested that the Congo discharge may induce a fractionation of the organic matter into small and light particles of low nutritional content, by contrast to the relatively fast-sinking aggregates found in the centers of high productivity areas.
Quality and quantity of the organic matter seem to influence the distribution of microhabitats as well. The flux of organic carbon to the sea-floor controls the sequence of degradation of organic matter in sediment and the position of different redox fronts. The vertical foraminiferal stratification within sediment closely parallels the distribution of oxygen and nitrate in porewater, and reflects different nutritive strategies and adaptation to different types of organic matter. The epifauna and shallow infauna colonize oxygenated sediments where labile organic matter is available. The intermediate infauna (M. barleeanum) is linked to the zone of nitrate reduction in sediments where epifaunal and shallow infaunal species are not competitive anymore, and must feed on bacterial biomass or on metabolizable nutritious particles produced by bacterial degradation of more refractory organic matter. The deep infauna shows its maximum distribution in anoxic sediments, where no easily metabolizable organic matter is available.