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Academic year
Didactic period
Primo Semestre

Training objectives

Object of the course is the knowledge of the main microfossil groups and of the methods of micropaleontology and its major applications in biostratigraphy, palaeoecology, paleoceanography, archeometry, industry and environmental bio-monitoring.
Individual laboratory activities are aimed to allow the students the direct recognition of the different taxa using the polarizing-light and stereo-microscopes. For the foraminiferal group (testate protozoa) the genera and specie identification is finalized to directly expertise applications of micropaleontology in paleoenvironmental reconstruction and biostratigraphy.
The main educational goals are to provide the knowledge needed for understanding the micropaleontology significance, to develop abilities in interpretation of biostratigraphical and plaeoecological records and, finally, to develop critical skills in the analysis of existing literature data.
The main knowledge gained will be:
- Knowledge of the basic biology of foraminifera, radiolarians, tintinnids, coccolithophorids, diatoms, dinoflagellates, ostracods, aimed to the comprehension of vital cycle and habitat of fossil forms.
- Knowledge of the chemical-mineralogical characters of the microfossil shells or elements fossilized.
- Knowledge of the sampling methods and strategy and laboratory preparation.
- Knowledge of the morphological criteria useful for taxonomical classification of the groups treated in the course, essential feature for correct micropaleontological applications.

The main abilities to apply knowledge acquired will be:
- To identify and classify the main group of microfossils, with greater detail for the foraminifera.

- To recognize the best sampling strategy in relation to the analysis aims.

- To identify the adequate treatment for the laboratory preparation of samples in relation with the sample lithology and mineralogy of the microfossils to be studied.

- To be able to synthesize useful data for biostratigraphy and paleoenvironmental reconstructions.

- To apply all the knowledge acquired during the course to reconstruct paleoenvironment, age and to interpret and critically evaluate the data available.


Basic knowledge of Geology and Paleontology.

Students should be aware on safety regulations for attending classrooms, laboratories and field trips.

Course programme

Fossils of microscopic dimensions (mainly from a few microns to a few hundreds of microns) are object of the Micropaleontology. Aims of Micropaleontology are similar to those of the Paleontology but the study of microfossils has acquired an independent historical development manly linked to the small dimensions of microfossils and to their huge abundance in sediments and rocks. These characteristics make microfossils more suitable for oil industry requirements with respect to macrofossils and allow wide applications in biostratigraphy and paleoenvironmental reconstructions. Methods of studies and laboratory preparations are different from those adopted for paleontology.

The course includes 60 hours of teaching and is organized in lectures and laboratory activities. Specifically, the planned lectures-hours are 30, and the planned laboratory-hours are 30.

In short the course consists of:

Introduction to Micropaleontology: a) presentation of microfossils and micropaleontology; b) relevance in Earth Sciences, applied fields and industry, goals; c) methods of study: sampling startegies, laboratory preparations, microscope analyses d) summary of biostratigraphic principles (total 10 h).
Systematic review: in this part of the course the stratigraphical distribution and applications in biostratigraphy, palaeoecology, paleoceanography of the main microfossil groups are trated. For each group, taxonomical criteria, methods and techniques of preparation (e.g., thin section, dry peel, washed residue) and evolutionary trends are explained. The characters of the living organism, life-cycle and, in greater detail, of the mineralized parts (chemical-mineralogical composition, microstructural features, morphology) are studied. More detailed analyses and laboratory activities are dedicated to foraminfera (testate protozoa). Thanks to the great availability of educational and bibliographic materials for this important group of microfossils, the student is able to execute complete laboratory activities and to fully interpret the results acquired.
Microfossils treated are.1) Foraminifera (microbenthic, larger foraminfera, planktic), total 30 hours inclusive of lessons and laboratory activities; 2) Calcareous nannofossils; 3) Calpionellids; 4) Siliceous microfossils (Radiolarians, Diatoms, Silicoflagellates, Ebridians); 5) Dinoflagellates, Acritarchs, Chitinozoans, mentions on spores and pollens); 6) Ostracods; 7) Conodonts; total 20 hours inclusive of lessons and laboratory activities.
Individual laboratory activities (supervised by the teacher) parallel the lectures. They include: preparation of washed residues from marly samples for study of microforaminifera, radiolarians, ostracods; visit to the laboratory for thin-section preparation; recognition of main morphological characters on macroscopic models of foraminifera; recognition of the different taxa at the polarizing light microscope and stereoscopic microscope with greater detail for foraminifera and applications in biostratigraphy and palaeoecology.
Each student is equipped with an individual microscope and relative kit for microfossil observation at the stereo and transmitted-light microscopes.

Didactic methods

In order to achieved the training objectives the course is organized as follow:

Lectures on the topics of the course program. During lessons students are expected to be involved in continuous interactions aimed to link the new knowledge with the acquired geological-paleontological concepts.
Individual laboratory activity with constant teacher’s supervision: preparation of samples for microfossil observation; observation at the stereomicroscope (washed residues) and transmitted-light microscope (thin sections, smear slides) aimed to the microsfossil classification, identification of environmental setting and age recognition. Each student can work with an individual microscope and relative equipment for microfossil observation.
After the laboratory activities student have access to the didactic collections upon request to the authorized staff (teachers, doorkeeper, etc).

Learning assessment procedures

No ongoing examinations are required. A written report of the laboratory activities on plaeoenvironmental and biostratigraphic applications of foraminifera must be presented to the teacher at least a few days before the oral examination.

The final examination consists in the oral discussion of the arguments treated in the course and in the identification (and relative considerations) of two isolated specimens of microfossils and of two thin sections from the didactic collection available to the students upon request to the authorized staff (teachers, doorkeeper, etc.)

Reference texts

Lessons in powerpoint and notes provided by the teacher.

Introdution to Marine Microplaoentology. Haq e Boersma 1988 (eds.) Elsevier; Microfossils. Armstrong&Brasier (eds.) 2005 Blackwell. Fossil Prokaryote and Protists,1992 Lipps Ed., Blackwell; Modern Foraminifera, 1999, Gupta Ed., Kluwer Academish Publicher.Foraminifera, 1989, Haynes, MacMillan Ed.

Slides and thin sections containing main microfossils treated in the course are available to the students upon request to the authorized staff (teachers, doorkeeper, etc.)