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Title: Biostratigraphy  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Chronostratigraphy, Magnetostratigraphy, Lithostratigraphy, Index fossil, Paleontology
Collection: Fossils, Stratigraphy, Subfields of Paleontology
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


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.

Biostratigraphy originated in the early 19th century, where geologists recognised that the correlation of fossil assemblages between rocks of similar type but different age decreased as the difference in age increased. The method was well-established before Charles Darwin explained the mechanism behind it - evolution.[1]

The first reef builder is a worldwide index fossil for the Lower Cambrian

Treptichnus pedum was used to define the base of the Cambrian period, but it has since been found in older strata.[2]

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 1
    • Concept of stage 1.1
    • Concept of zone 1.2
      • Index fossils 1.2.1
  • See also 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4

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 strata 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

Amplexograptus, a graptolite index fossil, from the Ordovician near Caney Springs, Tennessee.

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

See also


  1. ^ Gluyas, J. & Swarbrick, R. (2004) Petroleum Geoscience. Publ. Blackwell Publishing. pp. 80-82
  2. ^ Gehling, James; Jensen, Sören; Droser, Mary; Myrow, Paul; Narbonne, Guy (March 2001). "Burrowing below the basal Cambrian GSSP, Fortune Head, Newfoundland". Geological Magazine 138 (2): 213–218.  

External links

  • Biostratigraphic Lithostratigraphic Column Generator
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