Variation of shell ornamentation with latitude and water depth—A case study using living brachiopods

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Ecology and Evolution


As a potential anti-predatory defensive structure, the shell ornamentation of marine calcifiers is usually used to understand the macro coevolution of the interactions between predators and preys. Marine calcifiers' shell ornamentation complexity is generally believed to vary negatively with latitude and water depth. In this paper, we explored the association between shell ornamentation and latitude/bathymetry using the latest global database of living brachiopods. We found that (1) ~59% of living brachiopods species are characterized by smooth shells and that (2) there is no statistically significant linear trend, either positive or negative, between the ornamentation index and latitudes nor with water depths. Both findings are puzzling for living brachiopods as they are sharply contrasted to the patterns of fossil brachiopods whereby the latter, especially Paleozoic brachiopods, are known to exhibit (1) a much greater ornamentation diversity and (2) (at least for the geological periods that have been studied) a linear latitudinal gradient of ornamentation complexity existed. The reasons why living brachiopods have such a high proportion of smooth or weakly ornamented shells and fail to demonstrate an unequivocal linear latitudinal ornamentation gradient were explored and are linked to a multitude of potential factors rather than uniquely only to the predation pressure. Among these, the most plausible factor seems to be the cryptic (refuge-type) habitats (e.g., deep waters, cold polar regions, and submarine rock caves) that living brachiopods have been adapted to due to their low metabolism, where predation pressure is low, allowing brachiopods to enact the predator avoidance strategy rather than having to manufacture robust shell ornamentation to survive in an otherwise highly engaged predator–prey global marine ecosystem.

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Funding Sponsor

Australian Research Council



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