ABSTRACT

Porosity in planktonic foraminifers (the proportion of the shell surface covered by pores) is a conspicuous quantitative trait, well preserved in fossil shells and implicated as a source of environmental information. Despite its potential, the functional importance of porosity remains poorly understood. It is likely that pores are important in gas exchange, and differences in shell porosity among species or within species may reflect differences in metabolic rates or ambient oxygen concentration. Theoretically, porosity also affects the weight of the shell; and differences in porosity may reflect an adaptation to the specific density of the seawater or differences in allocation of resources to calcification (shell calcification intensity). Finally, there is evidence that porosity may differ between closely related cryptic species. Here we analyzed the potential role of porosity as a regulator of calcification intensity in Orbulina universa by combining biometric measurements based on sediment surface samples from the western Atlantic with a modelling approach. Specimens of O. universa were analyzed concerning their shell size, shell thickness, and shell porosity under light and scanning electron microscopy, and weighed using a microbalance. The resulting empirically derived model shows an effect size of shell thickness that is 7.5 times larger than the effect of shell porosity on the overall shell calcification intensity. This indicates that porosity is unlikely to be used by this species to regulate calcification intensity. By implementing the model on literature data which analyzed calcification intensity in O. universa, we also show that porosity differences among cryptic species in O. universa are unlikely to explain the observed differences in calcification intensity within the species. These findings indicate that functional explanations for differences in porosity in planktonic foraminifers have to be sought outside of calcification or density regulation and, conversely, that the observed differences in calcification intensity are likely driven by shell thickness and their relationship with environmental forcing can be applied without correction for porosity.

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