Book in Focus
Introduction to Microfossil Biostratigraphy"/>

08th March 2022

Book in Focus
Introduction to Microfossil Biostratigraphy

By M. Dan Georgescu


Micropaleontology, which represents the study of the small-sized fossils that require the use of a microscope for proper investigation, is a mature branch of paleontology. It began with a massive accumulation of data in the first half of the nineteenth century, followed shortly by its conceptual definition. The first application of micropaleontology was the dating of the successions of sedimentary rocks and sediments in the Earth’s crust, which is a paleontology-associated science termed biostratigraphy. Microfossil biostratigraphy, or microbiostratigraphy, was then initiated in the last decade of the nineteenth century, and the process was associated with the beginnings of the wide-scale use of exploration and production drilling for hydrocarbons. Microfossils present certain advantages when compared to larger macrofossils, which are strongly fragmented during drilling and cannot be of further use in biostratigraphy. In contrast, the quality of the fossil record of many groups of microfossils is considerably higher than in the case of macrofossils, and such microscopical debris can pass with relatively small damage through the drilling process. It may sound technical, but, in general strokes, this is the chain of developments that led to a major event pertaining to the evolution of the geological sciences, namely the major boom in oil production in the 1930s and 1940s. Microfossil-based biostratigraphy proved quite efficient in recognizing strata architecture in the subsurface and, therefore, the occurrence of traps that could be further investigated for oil and natural gas.

Despite these advances, microbiostratigraphy was still considered an application of paleontology and micropaleontology for many decades. Its status was never questioned afterwards, and, in the micropaleontology textbooks of the time, the data and concepts of biostratigraphical nature were only occasionally presented for each group of microfossils at the end of the respective chapters. This is the strategy I adopted in my recent micropaleontology textbook, Microfossils through Time: An Introduction (2018). However, during the writing of this textbook, and based both on the knowledge of fundamental concepts and oil-industry experience acquired in a time period of nearly three decades, it became evident to me that the microbiostratigraphical data themselves can form the topic of a distinct textbook. Although completely unexpected, the idea appeared quite solid to me, so I started detailed documentation while I was still working on the previous textbook. In time, the idea shaped fully and, almost without a break, I began Introduction to Microfossil Biostratigraphy, which was eventually released in 2021 by Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Writing Introduction to Microfossil Biostratigraphy was like a small adventure, for almost everything had to have a structure defined, if not invented. This derived from a somewhat curious state of facts being given the importance of biostratigraphy in the oil industry in the last century: a textbook of biostratigraphy dedicated to the applications of microfossils did not exist. As such, I applied the golden rule in textbook writing: keep it simple! Therefore, I subdivided the content into two sections: section A is dedicated to the historical developments and basic concepts, whereas section B, which is more extensive and comprises most of the volume, consists of a conglomerate of applications of 26 groups of microfossils followed by a synthesis on microfossil biostratigraphy. 

The fundamental concepts and ideas in microfossil biostratigraphy are presented in this book in the chronological order of their historical development. This option proved quite adequate as the development of microfossil biostratigraphy through time can be described as a series of responses to challenges from the scientific society and industry. Biostratigraphy itself was invented at the beginning of the nineteenth century by Sir William Smith during the production of the first geological map at the scale of an almost entire country, which was subsequently called “the map that changed the world”. The study of microfossils was not involved in the production of this map, but the principles of biostratigraphy developed by Sir William Smith are in use in modern microfossil biostratigraphy. The introductory segment of the book is followed by a presentation of the successive development of time-related biostratigraphy by Carl Albert Oppel, and eventually the first industry application of what will be later named microbiostratigraphy as the result of the contributions of Joseph Grzybowski in Poland in the last decade of the nineteenth century. The increasing prominence of the new application of micropaleontology and importance at the global scale in the oil industry is shown in a subchapter dedicated to the studies developed mostly in the United States by Joseph A. Cushman. The types of units used in biostratigraphy and microbiostratigraphy are presented in the chronological order of their development, with mentions of how samples are collected in stratigraphical successions of sedimentary rocks, both in outcrops and boreholes.

The key of the second section can be best understood through the prism of the micropaleontology textbook I published a couple of years earlier. This textbook was briefly characterized in two reviews as a “condensed encyclopedia”, and it is evident to me that the reason for this is represented by the fact that it includes no fewer than 44 of the known groups of microfossils, more than doubling the numbers given in previous textbooks. Practically, the second section of Introduction to Microfossil Biostratigraphy consists of a presentation of microbiostratigraphical applications of all the 26 groups for which such applicability has a documented record. These groups present different stratigraphical ranges within which they have microbiostratigraphical applications. A selection of microbiostratigraphical frameworks is presented for most of the microfossil groups, with a description of the domain of applicability and resolution. Another novelty which this textbook provides is the calculation of the biostratigraphical resolution for each of the frameworks presented in this section. This parameter allows a comparative quantitative evaluation between the resolution provided by the different microfossil groups. The emphasis in this section is on the most widely used groups: dinoflagellates, silicoflagellates, coccoliths, diatoms, foraminifers, ostracods, conodonts, and higher plant reproductive structures (spores and pollen). The second section ends with a synthesized presentation of the microfossil biostratigraphy for the entire Phanerozoic Eon that encompasses the last 545 million years in the Earth’s history. This was designed as a practical tool for orientation in answering one of the most important questions in both fundamental studies and industry applications: what microfossil group is the most accurate for each stratigraphical interval of the Phanerozoic?

What I consider one of the most interesting aspects of Introduction to Microfossil Biostratigraphy is the considerable influx of data from the Darwinian Theory of Evolution. Such data are primarily apparent in a re-consideration of the main bioevents used in the definition of biozones, which are the fundamental units in biostratigraphy. The other stream is represented by the development of biostratigraphical frameworks in which the bioevents in the succession used for stratigraphical purposes are calibrated with the succession of evolutionary events pertaining to the respective taxa. Practically, the connection between biostratigraphy and the Darwinian Theory of Evolution, which was severed through certain procedures and conventions developed in the last few decades and widely accepted in the scientific community, is restored.

Modern science develops and diversifies at a high rate, and the new textbook should be evaluated in this context. Micropaleontology and microbiostratigraphy are part of this process, and the last decade shows beyond reasonable doubt that further conceptual innovations in these two fields can be achieved by implementing the Darwinian Theory of Evolution in our current practice. The new textbook is a plea for innovative thinking and advance in a clean scientific environment in which such advances can be produced. In addition, these also require a free, professional and fair publication environment, in which Cambridge Scholars Publishing excels, and I warmly recommend to other scientists. Introduction to Microfossil Biostratigraphy benefited from both.


M. Dan Georgescu received a PhD from the University of Bucharest, Romania, in 1994 with a thesis focused on the Mesozoic planktic foraminifera of the Western Black Sea. Following an early career in the oil industry as a biostratigrapher and consultant, he joined academia and taught a variety of courses related to paleontology, micropaleontology, stratigraphy, geology, and petroleum geology at the Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, the University of Saskatchewan, and the University of Calgary, Canada. He has authored over 60 journal articles and book chapters, four textbooks and three books, and served as the editor of two volumes.


Introduction to Microfossil Biostratigraphy is available now in Hardback at a 25% discount. Enter code PROMO25 to redeem. 

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