Biostratigraphy is a field of Earth science (and a domain of stratigraphy) that involves the identification of fossils and their position relative to their occurrences in space and time. Fossil groups are confined to specific sedimentary layers which reflect changes in the earth’s environment. Fossils only occur in the lithosphere having been formed in the terrestrial (land), freshwater and marine (sea) environments. Biostratigraphy employs fossils of larger animals but the predominant area of study concerns microfossils such as foraminifera, calcareous nannofossils, and palynomorphs. Microfossils are also used in paleoclimatology, biogeography, and studies of thermal maturation.
Biostratigraphy can also be employed to ascertain ancient land forms in that seismic and tectonic activity may have shifted large areas of deposited materials and corresponding layers lying at varying depths may show specific fossils known to have been deposited at the same time. By correlating these fossil depositions, strata which appears to be deposited at different times may be shown to been formed at the same time and then later shifted through gradual or sudden changes. An example would be the fossils found in mountain ranges that may also occur in adjacent lower lying plains. Biostratigraphical studies can then be used to show that the mountains originally were contiguous with the plains and later thrust upward by tectonic activity.