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Hickman, 2001

Evolution and development of gastropod larval shell morphology: experimental evidence for mechanical defense and repair

Hickman, C. S.
Typearticle in journal


The structural diversity of gastropod veliger larvae offers an instructive counterpoint to the view of larval forms as conservative archetypes. Larval structure, function, and development are fine-tuned for survival in the plankton. Accordingly, the study of larval adaptation provides an important perspective for evolutionary-developmental biology as an integrated science. Patterns of breakage and repair in the field, as well as patterns of breakage in arranged encounters with zooplankton under laboratory conditions, are two powerful sources of data on the adaptive significance of morphological and microsculptural features of the gastropod larval shell. Shells of the planktonic veliger larvae of the caenogastropod Nassarius paupertus [GOULD] preserve multiple repaired breaks, attributed to unsuccessful zooplankton predators. In culture, larvae isolated from concentrated zooplankton samples rapidly repaired broken apertural margins and restored the "ideal" apertural form, in which an elaborate projection or "beak" covers the head of the swimming veliger. When individuals with repaired apertures were reintroduced to a concentrated mixture of potential zooplankton predators, the repaired margins were rapidly chipped and broken back. The projecting beak of the larval shell is the first line of mechanical defense, covering the larval head and mouth and potentially the most vulnerable part of the shell to breakage. Patterns of mechanical failure show that spiral ridges do reinforce the beak and retard breakage. The capacity for rapid shell repair and regeneration, and the evolution of features that resist or retard mechanical damage, may play a more prominent role than previously thought in enhancing the ability of larvae to survive in the plankton.

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