Biostratigraphy is the branch of stratigraphy which focuses on correlating and assigning relative ages of rock strata by using the fossil assemblages contained within them. Usually the aim is correlation, demonstrating that a particular horizon in one geological section represents the same period of time as another horizon at some other section. The fossils are useful because sediments of the same age can look completely different because of local variations in the sedimentary environment. For example, one section might have been made up of clays and marls while another has more chalky limestones, but if the fossil species recorded are similar, the two sediments are likely to have been laid down at the same time.

Ammonites, graptolites and trilobites are index fossils that are widely used in biostratigraphy. Microfossils such as acritarchs, chitinozoans, conodonts, dinoflagellate cysts, pollen, spores and foraminiferans are also frequently used. Different fossils work well for sediments of different ages; trilobites, for example, are particularly useful for sediments of Cambrian age. To work well, the fossils used must be widespread geographically, so that they can occur in many different places. They must also be short lived as a species, so that the period of time during which they could be incorporated in the sediment is relatively narrow. The longer lived the species, the poorer the stratigraphic precision, so fossils that evolve rapidly, such as ammonites, are favoured over forms that evolve much more slowly, like nautiloids. Often biostratigraphic correlations are based on a fauna, not an individual species, as this allows greater precision. Further, if only one species is present in a sample, it can mean that (1) the strata were formed in the known fossil range of that organism; (2) that the fossil range of the organism was incompletely known, and the strata extend the known fossil range. For instance, the presence of the fossil Trichophycus pedum was used to define the base of the Cambrian period, but it has since been found in older strata. [Cite journal
last = Gehling
first = James
last2 = Jensen
first2 = Sören
last3 = Droser
first3 = Mary
last4 = Myrow
first4 = Paul
last5 = Narbonne
first5 = Guy
title = Burrowing below the basal Cambrian GSSP, Fortune Head, Newfoundland
journal = Geological Magazine
volume = 138
issue = 2
pages = 213–218
month = March | year = 2001
year = 2001
url =
doi = 10.1017/S001675680100509X
id = 1

Fossil assemblages were traditionally used to designate the duration of periods. Since a large change in fauna was required to make early stragtigraphers create a new period, most of the periods we recognise today are terminated by a major extinction event or faunal turnover.

Fossils as a basis for stratigraphic subdivision

Concept of stage

A stage is a major subdivision of strata, each systematically following the other each bearing a unique assemblage of fossils. Therefore, stages can be defined as a group of strata containing the same major fossil assemblages. French palaeontologist Alcide d'Orbigny is credited for the invention of this concept. He named stages after geographic localities with particularly good sections of rock strata that bear the characteristic fossils on which the stages are based.

Concept of zone

In 1856 German palaeontologist Albert Oppel introduced the concept of zone (also known as biozones or Oppel zone). A zone includes strata characterised by the overlapping range of fossils. They represent the time between the appearance of species chosen at the base of the zone and the appearance of other species chosen at the base of the next succeeding zone. Oppel's zones are named after a particular distinctive fossil species, called an index fossil. Index fossils are one of the species from the assemblage of species that characterise the zone.

The zone is the fundamental biostratigraphic unit. Its thickness range from a few to hundreds of metres, and its extant range from local to worldwide. Biostratigraphic units are divided into six principal kinds of biozones:
*"Taxon range biozone" represent the known stratigraphic and geographic range of occurrence of a single taxon.
*"Concurrent range biozone" include the concurrent, coincident, or overlapping part of the range of two specified taxa.
*"Interval biozone" include the stata between two specific biostratigraphic surfaces. It can be based on lowest or highest occurrences.
*"Lineage biozone" are strata containing species representing a specific segment of an evolutionary lineage.
*"Assemblage biozones" are strata that contain a unique association of three or more taxa.
*"Abundance biozone" are strata in which the abundance of a particular taxon or group of taxa is significantly greater than in the adjacent part of the section.

Index fossils

To be useful in stratigraphic correlation index fossils should be:
*Independent of their environment
*Geographically widespread (provincialism/isolation of species should be avoided as much as possible)
*Rapidly evolving
*Abundant (easy to find in the rock record)
*Easy to preserve (Easier in low-energy, non-oxidized environment)
*Easy to identify

ee also


External links

[ Biostratigraphic Lithostratigraphic Column Generator]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • biostratigraphy — noun Etymology: International Scientific Vocabulary Date: 1926 1. the identification of fossils found within sedimentary rock strata as a method of determining the relative geologic age of the rock; also the branch of paleontology involving such… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • biostratigraphy — biostratigraphic /buy oh strat i graf ik/, adj. /buy oh streuh tig reuh fee/, n. a branch of geology dealing with the differentiation of sedimentary rock units on the basis of the fossils they contain. [BIO + STRATIGRAPHY] * * * …   Universalium

  • biostratigraphy — noun The study of the stratigraphic distribution of fossils …   Wiktionary

  • biostratigraphy — [ˌbʌɪə(ʊ)strə tɪgrəfi] noun the branch of stratigraphy concerned with fossils and their use in dating rock formations. Derivatives biostratigrapher noun biostratigraphic adjective biostratigraphical adjective biostratigraphically adverb …   English new terms dictionary

  • biostratigraphy — bio·stratigraphy …   English syllables

  • biostratigraphy — bi•o•stra•tig•ra•phy [[t]ˌbaɪ oʊ strəˈtɪg rə fi[/t]] n. pal gel a branch of geology dealing with the differentiation of sedimentary rock • Etymology: 1945–50 bi o•strat i•graph′ic ˌstræt ɪˈgræf ɪk adj …   From formal English to slang

  • biostratigraphy —   n. determination of age, etc., of sedimentary strata from fossils which they contain …   Dictionary of difficult words

  • biostratigraphy — |bī(ˌ)ō+ noun Etymology: bi (II) + stratigraphy : the part of paleontology that is directly related to the conditions and order of deposition of the sedimentary rocks : stratigraphic paleontology …   Useful english dictionary

  • Dinosaur biostratigraphy — studies the distribution of dinosaur taxa through rock layers. It can be useful for dating and correlating rock units and reconstructiong ancient ecosystems. Most dinosaur bearing rock formations do not contain multiple distinct stratigraphically …   Wikipedia

  • Paleontology — Palaeontology redirects here. For the scientific journal, see Palaeontology (journal). Paleontology studies the entire history of life on Earth. Paleontology (pronounced /ˌpælɪɒnˈtɒlədʒi/; British: palaeontology; from Greek: παλαιός… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.