Two piston cores, DS97-2P from the Reykjanes Ridge in the central North Atlantic Ocean (1685 m water depth) and ENAM33 from southwest of the Faeroe Islands in the NE Atlantic (1217 m water depth), have been investigated for their planktic and benthic foraminiferal content. DS97-2P is situated near the Subarctic Front and productivity measured by accumulation rates of benthic and planktic foraminifera has been generally high during the Holocene. The productivity shows a clear decrease from an early Holocene maximum to a late Holocene minimum. Coeval changes in the benthic faunas indicate that the food supply changed from large, irregular pulses during the early Holocene to a more sustained flux during the late Holocene. Presumably in concert with decreasing bottom current activity oxygen conditions in the bottom water became poorer. Another feature of the late Holocene is an increasing instability of the North Atlantic thermohaline circulation regime. Nevertheless, the changes in faunal composition and productivity during the Holocene were gradual as compared to the discontinuous distribution patterns and abrupt productivity shifts during the glacial. The glacial shifts were on a millennial time scale and correlate with the interstadial-stadial phases of the Dansgaard-Oeschger cycles in the Greenland ice cores. The faunas of the warm interstadial phases resembled the Holocene faunas, and both surface and bottom productivity was high. The faunas suggest that the interstadial circulation pattern was very similar to the modern system with convection in the Nordic seas and generation of North Atlantic Deep Water. The planktic faunas during the cold stadials and Heinrich events were completely dominated by the polar species Neogloboquadrina pachyderma s, and surface conditions were cold and the productivity low. The benthic faunas were dominated by species that presently thrive in areas with a low amount of food and reduced oxygen content. The water column was probably stratified with low saline, cold surface water overlying poorly aerated, intermediate water masses. © 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.