Give a marine snail an easy life, and it will take its time drilling into a clam. Put it under competitive stress, and it will look for a faster route. Those changes, scarred into fossils, show that an unknown catastrophe nearly two million years ago changed the competitive balance in the Western Atlantic and the ecosystem has yet to fully recover, according to research published this week in the journal Science.
In the seagrass meadows of the Gulf of Mexico, Chicoreus and Phyllonotus marine snails feed on Chione clams by slowly drilling a hole through the shell wall. That process can take a week, while the snails risk losing their prey to another snail or being attacked themselves by fish, crabs or other predators.
High levels of competition should favor faster feeding, said Geerat Vermeij, professor of geology at UC Davis and an author on the paper. The snails can get a quicker meal by drilling through the thinnest part at the shells edge -- but risk getting their feeding proboscis nipped off by the closing shell.
Andy Fell | EurekAlert!
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