This study describes the foraminiferal biofacies of a temperate stenohaline shelf and associated euryhaline marine lakes of Gippsland in southeast Australia. The study incorporates facies analyses and interpretations of three types of foraminiferal distributional data: forms alive at the time of collection, recently dead forms and relict forms. Four principal biofacies types occur: (1) the euryhaline marine Gippsland Lakes silts and sands; (2) inner shelf medium to coarse quartz-rich sands and bioclastic silty sands; (3) medium shelf bryozoan-rich bioclastic silt and silty sand; (4) outer shelf bryozoan- and plankton-rich silts and fine sands.
The euryhaline marine Gippsland Lakes silts and sands contain abundant Ammonia beccarii and Eggerella, with minor Quinqueloculina, Elphidium and Discorbinella. The Gippsland inner shelf biofacies (0–50 m depths) consists of medium to coarse quartz-rich sands and bioclastic silty sand. Abundant living, relict and recently dead miliolids occur in the inner shelf with rare planktonic forms. Common planktonic foraminifera, with Cibicides, Parrellina, Elphidium and Lenticulina and relict forms occur in the bryozoan-rich bioclastic silt and silty sand of the Gippsland middle shelf (50–100 m depth). Bryozoan and plankton-rich silts and fine sand occur in the outer shelf to upper slope facies (100–300 m) below swell wave base on the Gippsland Shelf. A diverse fauna with common textulariids, Uvigerina, Bulimina, Anomalinoides and Astrononion and rare relict forms, occurs in this biofacies. Planktonic foraminifera and Uvigerina are most abundant at the shelf break due to local upwelling at the head of the Bass Canyon.
Estimates of faunal production rates from live/dead ratios and full assemblage data suggest that the fauna of the Gippsland Shelf has not been significantly reworked by wave and/or bioturbation processes. Most relict foraminifera occur in the inner shelf, with minor relict forms in the middle to outer shelf. This pattern is similar to other shelf regions in Australia, where shelf areas were exposed during Pleistocene lowstand times, principally reworking pre-existing inner to middle shelf faunas. Correspondence analyses of the foraminiferal data yield a clear depth-related distribution of the faunal assemblage data. Most of the modern Gippsland Shelf fauna are cosmopolitan species and nearly a third are (semi-)endemic taxa suitable for regional palaeo-environmental studies. From biostratigraphic studies it is clear that the modern Gippsland foraminiferal assemblage evolved since Early Miocene times, with most elements present by the Late Miocene. Hence, the Recent Gippsland Shelf foraminiferal biofacies distribution is a good analogue for Neogene palaeo-environmental studies in the region. The longer ranging pre-Miocene mixture of epifaunal and infaunal taxa are deeper shelf cosmopolitan forms and are inferred to be more conservative since they evolved in relatively lower stress environments, typifying mesotrophic to eutrophic conditions compared to inner shelf epifaunal forms with ecological niches markedly affected by sea-level and temperature fluctuations in zones of constant wave action, in oligotrophic environments.
The foraminiferal and facies analogues of this study on the Gippsland Shelf can be used for palaeo-environmental analyses of the Gippsland and Otway Neogene sedimentary successions. Such improvements will lead ultimately to a better understanding of the evolution of the neritic realm in southeastern Australia, an area facing the evolving Southern Ocean during the Cenozoic.