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Concept: Mollusca


While components of the pathway that establishes left-right asymmetry have been identified in diverse animals, from vertebrates to flies, it is striking that the genes involved in the first symmetry-breaking step remain wholly unknown in the most obviously chiral animals, the gastropod snails. Previously, research on snails was used to show that left-right signaling of Nodal, downstream of symmetry breaking, may be an ancestral feature of the Bilateria [1, 2]. Here, we report that a disabling mutation in one copy of a tandemly duplicated, diaphanous-related formin is perfectly associated with symmetry breaking in the pond snail. This is supported by the observation that an anti-formin drug treatment converts dextral snail embryos to a sinistral phenocopy, and in frogs, drug inhibition or overexpression by microinjection of formin has a chirality-randomizing effect in early (pre-cilia) embryos. Contrary to expectations based on existing models [3-5], we discovered asymmetric gene expression in 2- and 4-cell snail embryos, preceding morphological asymmetry. As the formin-actin filament has been shown to be part of an asymmetry-breaking switch in vitro [6, 7], together these results are consistent with the view that animals with diverse body plans may derive their asymmetries from the same intracellular chiral elements [8].

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Animal, Symmetry, Mollusca, Gastropod shell, Snail


Over thirty years ago anecdotal accounts of the undescribed Larger Pacific Striped Octopus suggested behaviors previously unknown for octopuses. Beak-to-beak mating, dens shared by mating pairs, inking during mating and extended spawning were mentioned in publications, and enticed generations of cephalopod biologists. In 2012-2014 we were able to obtain several live specimens of this species, which remains without a formal description. All of the unique behaviors listed above were observed for animals in aquaria and are discussed here. We describe the behavior, body color patterns, and postures of 24 adults maintained in captivity. Chromatophore patterns of hatchlings are also shown.

Concepts: Biology, Ocean, Mollusca, Cuttlefish, Chromatophore, Cephalopod, Octopus


BACKGROUND: Various shapes of gastropod shells have evolved ever since the Cambrian. Although theoretical analyses of morphogenesis exist, the molecular basis of shell development remains unclear. We compared expression patterns of the decapentaplegic (dpp) gene in the shell gland and mantle tissues at various developmental stages between coiled-shell and non-coiled-shell gastropods. RESULTS: We analyzed the expression patterns of dpp for the two limpets Patella vulgata and Nipponacmea fuscoviridis, and for the dextral wild-type and sinistral mutant lineage of the pond snail Lymnaea stagnalis. The limpets had symmetric expression patterns of dpp throughout ontogeny, whereas in the pond snail, the results indicated asymmetric and mirror image patterns between the dextral and sinistral lineages. CONCLUSION: We hypothesize that Dpp induces mantle expansion, and the presence of a left/right asymmetric gradient of the Dpp protein causes the formation of a coiled shell. Our results provide a molecular explanation for shell, coiling including new insights into expression patterns in post-embryonic development, which should aid in understanding how various shell shapes are formed and have evolved in the gastropods.

Concepts: Gene, Developmental biology, Mollusca, Gastropod shell, Snail, Gastropoda, Lymnaea stagnalis, Limpet


The abalone Haliotis diversicolor is a good model for study of the settlement and metamorphosis, which are widespread marine ecological phenomena. However, information on the global gene backgrounds and gene expression profiles for the early development of abalones is lacking.

Concepts: Gene expression, Evolution, Molecular biology, Developmental biology, Mollusca, Abalone, Ass’s ear abalone


Dispersal has received growing attention in marine ecology, particularly since evidence obtained with up-to-date techniques challenged the traditional view. The dogwhelk Nucella lapillus L., a sedentary gastropod with direct development, is a good example: dispersal was traditionally assumed to be limited until studies with microsatellites disputed this idea. To shed some light on this controversy, the genetic structure of dogwhelk populations in northwest Spain was investigated with highly polymorphic AFLP markers giving special attention to the influence of hydrodynamic stress. In agreement with the expectations for a poor disperser, our results show a significant genetic structure at regional (<200 km) and areal scales (<15 km). However, the spatial genetic structure varied with wave-exposure in the present case study: IBD was evident under sheltered conditions but absent from the exposed area where genetic differentiation was stronger. Our results provide evidence that differences in wave-exposure can exert a detectable influence on the genetic structure of coastal organisms, even in species without a planktonic larva.

Concepts: DNA, Biology, Population, Mollusca, Dog whelk, Amplified fragment length polymorphism, Nucella, Gastropod shell


BACKGROUND: The inhabitants of deep-sea hydrothermal vents occupy ephemeral island-like habitats distributed sporadically along tectonic spreading-centers, back-arc basins, and volcanically active seamounts. The majority of vent taxa undergo a pelagic larval phase, and thus varying degrees of geographical subdivision, ranging from no impedance of dispersal to complete isolation, often exist among taxa that span common geomorphological boundaries. Two lineages of Bathymodiolus mussels segregate on either side of the Easter Microplate, a boundary that separates the East Pacific Rise from spreading centers connected to the Pacific-Antarctic Ridge. RESULTS: A recent sample from the northwest flank of the Easter Microplate contained an admixture of northern and southern mitochondrial haplotypes and corresponding alleles at five nuclear gene loci. Genotypic frequencies in this sample did not fit random mating expectation. Significant heterozygote deficiencies at nuclear loci and gametic disequilibria between loci suggested that this transitional region might be a ‘Tension Zone’ maintained by immigration of parental types and possibly hybrid unfitness. An analysis of recombination history in the nuclear genes suggests a prolonged history of parapatric contact between the two mussel lineages. We hereby elevate the southern lineage to species status as Bathymodiolus antarcticus n. sp. and restrict the use of Bathymodiolus thermophilus to the northern lineage. CONCLUSIONS: Because B. thermophilus s.s. exhibits no evidence for subdivision or isolation-by-distance across its 4000 km range along the EPR axis and Galapagos Rift, partial isolation of B. antarcticus n. sp. requires explanation. The time needed to produce the observed degree of mitochondrial differentiation is consistent with the age of the Easter Microplate (2.5 to 5.3 million years). The complex geomorphology of the Easter Microplate region forces strong cross-axis currents that might disrupt self-recruitment of mussels by removing planktotrophic larvae from the ridge axis. Furthermore, frequent local extinction events in this tectonically dynamic region might produce a demographic sink rather than a source for dispersing mussel larvae. Historical changes in tectonic rates and current patterns appear to permit intermittent contact and introgression between the two subspecies.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Species, Pacific Ocean, Hydrothermal vent, Mollusca, Galápagos Islands, East Pacific Rise


In vertebrates, the left-and-right pairs of homologous organs are generally present in equal numbers. A remarkable exception is snail-eating snakes in the family Pareidae: almost all the pareid snakes have much more teeth on the right mandible than on the left for functional specialization in feeding on the dextral majority of land snails. Because the only exceptional species with symmetric dentition has been regarded as a slug-eater, the extent of dietary specialization on slugs could shape the degree of the lateral asymmetry of mandibular dentition (dentition asymmetry) even among snail eaters.

Concepts: Left-wing politics, Mollusca, Snail, Slug


We present a mechanism by which organisms with only a single photoreceptor, which have a monochromatic view of the world, can achieve color discrimination. An off-axis pupil and the principle of chromatic aberration (where different wavelengths come to focus at different distances behind a lens) can combine to provide “color-blind” animals with a way to distinguish colors. As a specific example, we constructed a computer model of the visual system of cephalopods (octopus, squid, and cuttlefish) that have a single unfiltered photoreceptor type. We compute a quantitative image quality budget for this visual system and show how chromatic blurring dominates the visual acuity in these animals in shallow water. We quantitatively show, through numerical simulations, how chromatic aberration can be exploited to obtain spectral information, especially through nonaxial pupils that are characteristic of coleoid cephalopods. We have also assessed the inherent ambiguity between range and color that is a consequence of the chromatic variation of best focus with wavelength. This proposed mechanism is consistent with the extensive suite of visual/behavioral and physiological data that has been obtained from cephalopod studies and offers a possible solution to the apparent paradox of vivid chromatic behaviors in color blind animals. Moreover, this proposed mechanism has potential applicability in organisms with limited photoreceptor complements, such as spiders and dolphins.

Concepts: Photoreceptor cell, Color, Mollusca, Color blindness, Cuttlefish, Cephalopod, Octopus


Human activities have substantially changed the world’s oceans in recent decades, altering marine food webs, habitats and biogeochemical processes [1]. Cephalopods (squid, cuttlefish and octopuses) have a unique set of biological traits, including rapid growth, short lifespans and strong life-history plasticity, allowing them to adapt quickly to changing environmental conditions [2-4]. There has been growing speculation that cephalopod populations are proliferating in response to a changing environment, a perception fuelled by increasing trends in cephalopod fisheries catch [4,5]. To investigate long-term trends in cephalopod abundance, we assembled global time-series of cephalopod catch rates (catch per unit of fishing or sampling effort). We show that cephalopod populations have increased over the last six decades, a result that was remarkably consistent across a highly diverse set of cephalopod taxa. Positive trends were also evident for both fisheries-dependent and fisheries-independent time-series, suggesting that trends are not solely due to factors associated with developing fisheries. Our results suggest that large-scale, directional processes, common to a range of coastal and oceanic environments, are responsible. This study presents the first evidence that cephalopod populations have increased globally, indicating that these ecologically and commercially important invertebrates may have benefited from a changing ocean environment.

Concepts: Natural environment, Ocean, Mollusca, Environmental science, Cuttlefish, Cephalopod, Octopus


Artificial reefs created by deliberately sinking ships off the coast of the Florida Keys island chain are providing new habitat for marine invertebrates. This newly developing fouling community includes the previously reported invasive orange tube coral Tubastraea coccinea and the non-native giant foam oyster Hyotissa hyotis. New SCUBA-based surveys involving five shipwrecks spanning the upper, middle, and lower Florida Keys, show T. coccinea now also established in the lower Keys and H. hyotis likewise extending to new sites. Two additional mollusks found on the artificial reefs, the amathinid gastropod Cyclothyca pacei and gryphaeid oyster Hyotissa mcgintyi, the latter also common in the natural reef areas, are discussed as potentially non-native. A new species of sessile, suspension-feeding, worm-snail, Thylacodes vandyensis Bieler, Rawlings & Collins n. sp. (Vermetidae), is described from the wreck of the USNS Vandenberg off Key West and discussed as potentially invasive. This new species is compared morphologically and by DNA barcode markers to other known members of the genus, and may be a recent arrival from the Pacific Ocean. Thylacodes vandyensis is polychromatic, with individuals varying in both overall head-foot coloration and mantle margin color pattern. Females brood stalked egg capsules attached to their shell within the confines of their mantle cavity, and give rise to crawl-away juveniles. Such direct-developing species have the demonstrated capacity for colonizing habitats isolated far from their native ranges and establishing rapidly growing founder populations. Vermetid gastropods are common components of the marine fouling community in warm temperate and tropical waters and, as such, have been tagged as potentially invasive or with a high potential to be invasive in the Pacific Ocean. As vermetids can influence coral growth/composition in the Pacific and have been reported serving as intermediate hosts for blood flukes of loggerhead turtles, such new arrivals in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary are of concern. Growing evidence indicates that artificial reefs can act as permanent way-stations for arriving non-natives, providing nurseries within which populations may grow in an environment with reduced competition compared to native habitats. Consequently, artificial reefs can act as sentinels for the appearance of new species. Ongoing monitoring of the developing molluscan fauna on the artificial reefs of the Florida Keys is necessary to recognize new invasions and identify potential eradication targets, thereby assuring the health of the nearby natural barrier reef.

Concepts: Coral reef, Pacific Ocean, Florida, Mollusca, Gastropoda, Biofouling, Fouling, Florida Keys