Agglutinated foraminifera dominate in temperate salt marsh sediment, making them key indicators for monitoring sea level and environmental changes. Little is known about the biology of these benthic foraminifera because of difficulties in distinguishing live from dead specimens in laboratory cultures. We present data from 10 years of laboratory experiments using comparisons of the agglutinant trochamminids Trochammina inflata and Entzia macrescens and the miliolid Miliammina fusca with the calcareous rotalids Helenina anderseni and Elphidium williamsoni. Specimens were taken from a laboratory mesocosm representing Chezzetcook Inlet, a cool-temperate salt marsh in eastern Canada. We determined culture requirements for the agglutinated foraminifera in Petri dishes over 10–12 week periods. Five inexpensive, non-terminal ways of identifying live organisms were developed: spatial movement, detritus-gathering, attachment, clustering, and test opacity. Comparison with rose Bengal staining showed <10% diversion for calcareous species and T. inflata but M. fusca was over-counted by >30%. Terminal chambers of Trochammina inflata were examined by transmission electron microscopy to visualise food consumption and identify food in digestive vacuoles, both in specimens from mesocosm and in culture. Bacteria and unidentified detritus in the vacuoles establish that this agglutinated species is a saprophagous and bacterivorous detritivore. The adhesive secretions by these species apparently help them gather and possibly farm food while being relatively immobile in the sediments. Our observations of movement and feeding orientation in the agglutinants suggest links between form and function that underscore their value as ultra high resolution sea-level proxies. Mesocosm biomass and abundance counts show that foraminifera represent >50% of the meiofaunal biomass, emphasising their importance in the food web and energy-flow dynamics of temperate salt marsh systems.

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