Foraminiferal assemblages were used to investigate the nature of sedimentation on the tectonically active Poverty continental margin (PCM) of New Zealand. Recent research around the world has been focused on understanding the sedimentary functioning of small mountainous rivers to the global sediment budget, and this study is part of a greater effort to define the processes that link sediment source and sink of such a system in New Zealand. Fifty-five surface samples from box, gravity, and multi-cores from the shelf and slope of the PCM were used to document the distribution of modern benthic foraminifera. Also, twenty samples from two gravity cores retrieved from Poverty Canyon, a hypothesized conduit of sediment to the deep ocean, were analyzed to evaluate the record of down-slope sediment transport.

Seven biofacies, recognized by cluster analysis of benthic foraminiferal abundance data from surface and core samples, are strongly related to water depth and continental margin morphology: inner-shelf biofacies (26–43 m), shelf biofacies (~30–130 m) (this biofacies contained all samples from a canyon-head core taken at 359-m water depth), outer-shelf biofacies (60–250 m), upper-slope biofacies (230–350 m), shallow lower-slope biofacies (870–1255 m), Lachlan Anticline biofacies (40–63 m on the PCM shelf), and a mid-canyon thalweg biofacies from a core taken at 891-m water depth. Foraminiferal assemblages of the Lachlan Anticline biofacies are characterized by the largest foraminifera (mostly inner-and mid-shelf species), the most diverse assemblages, and the highest percentage of reworked planktonic tests in the dataset. Many planktonic and benthic specimens have probably been derived from the outcropping Miocene-Pliocene rock of the anticline. A high percentage of reworked (fossil) planktonic foraminifera at the mouth of Poverty Bay likely results from sediments shed from rapidly uplifting Plio-Pleistocene strata within the Waipaoa River drainage basin.

Assemblages throughout the canyon-head (359 m) and mid-canyon (891 m) cores from Poverty Canyon contained higher percentages of shallower-water indicator taxa than other samples at similar depths outside the canyon, thus supporting the hypothesis that Poverty Canyon is channeling sediment from the shelf and upper slope to the deep ocean. However, different patterns of down-core distributions between the canyon head and mid-slope thalweg sites indicate that the nature of sedimentation varies down canyon. Abundances of shallower-water foraminifera suggest that shelf taxa are being supplied from a more consistent source to the canyon head, while shelf and upper-slope taxa are more variably supplied to the deeper-canyon thalweg. The effects of bioturbation appear to be greater in the canyon head.

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