David L. Rodland, a Ph.D. student in Virginia Techs Department of Geological Sciences, has been studying encrustation, or the colonization of seashells by other marine organisms that live permanently attached to hard surfaces.
Examples of encrusting organisms (or epibionts) include serpulid and spirorbid worms, bryozoans, barnacles, and algae. Many epibionts produce their own calcareous tubes, shells, or skeletons, which are attached to that surface and may become fossilized along with it. "The encrustation of seashells by epibionts provides a great deal of ecological data or, for fossils, paleoecological, data," Rodland said. "You can count the number and diversity of epibionts on a shell, for example, and see how it changes as a function of shell size. Or you can examine how encrustation varies between different kinds of shells or between the shells collected at different places and under different environmental conditions. Some workers have even suggested that they could be used to estimate the amount of nutrients and plankton available in ancient seas."
At the meeting of the Southeastern Sections of the Geological Society of America (GSA) in Memphis March 12-14, Rodland presented a comparison of the encrustation of a bivalve mollusk (Macoma) with the encrustation of an articulate brachiopod (Bouchardia) from the coast of Brazil. "This is the only tropical / subtropical site where both bivalves and brachiopods occur in abundance in the present day, or at least, the only one we know," Rodland said. "Brachiopods were a common element in Paleozoic fossil beds (>250 million years ago) and so this is the first opportunity we really have to compare brachiopods and bivalves in the modern world."
David Rodland | EurekAlert!
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