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Concept: Mollusca


The Caribbean spiny lobster, Panulirus argus, is one of the most valuable fisheries commodities in the Central American region, directly employing 50,000 people and generating >US$450 million per year [1]. This industry is particularly important to small island states such as The Bahamas, which exports more lobster than any other country in the region [1]. Several factors contribute to this disproportionally high productivity, principally the extensive shallow-water banks covered in seagrass meadows [2], where fishermen deploy artificial shelters for the lobsters to supplement scarce reef habitat [3]. The surrounding seabed communities are dominated by lucinid bivalve mollusks that live among the seagrass root system [4, 5]. These clams host chemoautotrophic bacterial symbionts in their gills that synthesize organic matter using reduced sulfur compounds, providing nutrition to their hosts [6]. Recent studies have highlighted the important role of the lucinid clam symbiosis in maintaining the health and productivity of seagrass ecosystems [7, 8], but their biomass also represents a potentially abundant, but as yet unquantified, food source to benthic predators [9]. Here we undertake the first analysis of Caribbean spiny lobster diet using a stable isotope approach (carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur) and show that a significant portion of their food (∼20% on average) is obtained from chemosynthetic primary production in the form of lucinid clams. This nutritional pathway was previously unrecognized in the spiny lobster’s diet, and these results are the first empirical evidence that chemosynthetic primary production contributes to the productivity of commercial fisheries stocks.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Bacteria, Mollusca, Central America, Spiny lobster, Achelata, Fishery, Panulirus


Hyoliths are abundant and globally distributed ‘shelly’ fossils that appear early in the Cambrian period and can be found throughout the 280 million year span of Palaeozoic strata. The ecological and evolutionary importance of this group has remained unresolved, largely because of their poorly constrained soft anatomy and idiosyncratic scleritome, which comprises an operculum, a conical shell and, in some taxa, a pair of lateral spines (helens). Since their first description over 175 years ago, hyoliths have most often been regarded as incertae sedis, related to molluscs or assigned to their own phylum. Here we examine over 1,500 specimens of the mid-Cambrian hyolith Haplophrentis from the Burgess Shale and Spence Shale Lagerstätten. We reconstruct Haplophrentis as a semi-sessile, epibenthic suspension feeder that could use its helens to elevate its tubular body above the sea floor. Exceptionally preserved soft tissues include an extendable, gullwing-shaped, tentacle-bearing organ surrounding a central mouth, which we interpret as a lophophore, and a U-shaped digestive tract ending in a dorsolateral anus. Together with opposing bilateral sclerites and a deep ventral visceral cavity, these features indicate an affinity with the lophophorates (brachiopods, phoronids and tommotiids), substantially increasing the morphological disparity of this prominent group.

Concepts: Mollusca, Paleontology, Bryozoa, Ordovician, Trilobite, Lophotrochozoa, Cambrian, Burgess Shale


Despite its charismatic appeal to both scientists and the general public, remarkably little is known about the giant squid Architeuthis, one of the largest of the invertebrates. Although specimens of Architeuthis are becoming more readily available owing to the advancement of deep-sea fishing techniques, considerable controversy exists with regard to topics as varied as their taxonomy, biology and even behaviour. In this study, we have characterized the mitochondrial genome (mitogenome) diversity of 43 Architeuthis samples collected from across the range of the species, in order to use genetic information to provide new and otherwise difficult to obtain insights into the life of this animal. The results show no detectable phylogenetic structure at the mitochondrial level and, furthermore, that the level of nucleotide diversity is exceptionally low. These observations are consistent with the hypotheses that there is only one global species of giant squid, Architeuthis dux (Steenstrup, 1857), and that it is highly vagile, possibly dispersing through both a drifting paralarval stage and migration of larger individuals. Demographic history analyses of the genetic data suggest that there has been a recent population expansion or selective sweep, which may explain the low level of genetic diversity.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Biology, Organism, Mollusca, Giant squid


To cope with the exceptional computational complexity that is involved in the control of its hyper-redundant arms [1], the octopus has adopted unique motor control strategies in which the central brain activates rather autonomous motor programs in the elaborated peripheral nervous system of the arms [2, 3]. How octopuses coordinate their eight long and flexible arms in locomotion is still unknown. Here, we present the first detailed kinematic analysis of octopus arm coordination in crawling. The results are surprising in several respects: (1) despite its bilaterally symmetrical body, the octopus can crawl in any direction relative to its body orientation; (2) body and crawling orientation are monotonically and independently controlled; and (3) contrasting known animal locomotion, octopus crawling lacks any apparent rhythmical patterns in limb coordination, suggesting a unique non-rhythmical output of the octopus central controller. We show that this uncommon maneuverability is derived from the radial symmetry of the arms around the body and the simple pushing-by-elongation mechanism by which the arms create the crawling thrust. These two together enable a mechanism whereby the central controller chooses in a moment-to-moment fashion which arms to recruit for pushing the body in an instantaneous direction. Our findings suggest that the soft molluscan body has affected in an embodied way [4, 5] the emergence of the adaptive motor behavior of the octopus.

Concepts: Central nervous system, Nervous system, Brain, Motor control, Mollusca, Computational complexity theory, Animal locomotion, Octopus


Octopuses typically have a single reproductive period and then they die (semelparity). Once a clutch of fertilized eggs has been produced, the female protects and tends them until they hatch. In most shallow-water species this period of parental care can last from 1 to 3 months, but very little is known about the brooding of deep-living species. In the cold, dark waters of the deep ocean, metabolic processes are often slower than their counterparts at shallower depths. Extrapolations from data on shallow-water octopus species suggest that lower temperatures would prolong embryonic development periods. Likewise, laboratory studies have linked lower temperatures to longer brooding periods in cephalopods, but direct evidence has not been available. We found an opportunity to directly measure the brooding period of the deep-sea octopus Graneledone boreopacifica, in its natural habitat. At 53 months, it is by far the longest egg-brooding period ever reported for any animal species. These surprising results emphasize the selective value of prolonged embryonic development in order to produce competitive hatchlings. They also extend the known boundaries of physiological adaptations for life in the deep sea.

Concepts: Natural selection, Ocean, Mollusca, Charles Darwin, Deep sea, Cephalopod, Octopus, Octopodidae


Cephalopods show behavioral parallels to birds and mammals despite considerable evolutionary distance [1, 2]. Many cephalopods produce complex body patterns and visual signals, documented especially in cuttlefish and squid, where they are used both in camouflage and a range of interspecific interactions [1, 3-5]. Octopuses, in contrast, are usually seen as solitary and asocial [6, 7]; their body patterns and color changes have primarily been interpreted as camouflage and anti-predator tactics [8-12], though the familiar view of the solitary octopus faces a growing list of exceptions. Here, we show by field observation that in a shallow-water octopus, Octopus tetricus, a range of visible displays are produced during agonistic interactions, and these displays correlate with the outcome of those interactions. Interactions in which dark body color by an approaching octopus was matched by similar color in the reacting octopus were more likely to escalate to grappling. Darkness in an approaching octopus met by paler color in the reacting octopus accompanied retreat of the paler octopus. Octopuses also displayed on high ground and stood with spread web and elevated mantle, often producing these behaviors in combinations. This study is the first to document the systematic use of signals during agonistic interactions among octopuses. We show prima facie conformity of our results to an influential model of agonistic signaling [13]. These results suggest that interactions have a greater influence on octopus evolution than has been recognized and show the importance of convergent evolution in behavioral traits. VIDEO ABSTRACT.

Concepts: Signal, Mollusca, Cuttlefish, Chromatophore, Cephalopod, Octopus, Prima facie


Autotomy of body parts offers various prey animals immediate benefits of survival in compensation for considerable costs. I found that a land snail Satsuma caliginosa of populations coexisting with a snail-eating snake Pareas iwasakii survived the snake predation by autotomizing its foot, whereas those out of the snake range rarely survived. Regeneration of a lost foot completed in a few weeks but imposed a delay of shell growth. Imprints of autotomy were found in greater than 10 per cent of S. caliginosa in the snake range but in only less than 1 per cent out of it, simultaneously demonstrating intense predation by the snakes and high efficiency of autotomy for surviving snake predation in the wild. However, in experiments, mature S. caliginosa performed autotomy less frequently. Instead of the costly autotomy, they can use defensive denticles on the inside of their shell apertures. Owing to the constraints from the additive growth of shells, most pulmonate snails can produce these denticles only when they have fully grown up. Thus, this developmental constraint limits the availability of the modified aperture, resulting in ontogenetic switching of the alternative defences. This study illustrates how costs of adaptation operate in the evolution of life-history strategies under developmental constraints.

Concepts: Lung, Predation, Mollusca, Gastropod shell, Snail, Snake, Pulmonata, Freshwater snail


Molluscs (snails, octopuses, clams and their relatives) have a great disparity of body plans and, among the animals, only arthropods surpass them in species number. This diversity has made Mollusca one of the best-studied groups of animals, yet their evolutionary relationships remain poorly resolved. Open questions have important implications for the origin of Mollusca and for morphological evolution within the group. These questions include whether the shell-less, vermiform aplacophoran molluscs diverged before the origin of the shelled molluscs (Conchifera) or lost their shells secondarily. Monoplacophorans were not included in molecular studies until recently, when it was proposed that they constitute a clade named Serialia together with Polyplacophora (chitons), reflecting the serial repetition of body organs in both groups. Attempts to understand the early evolution of molluscs become even more complex when considering the large diversity of Cambrian fossils. These can have multiple dorsal shell plates and sclerites or can be shell-less but with a typical molluscan radula and serially repeated gills. To better resolve the relationships among molluscs, we generated transcriptome data for 15 species that, in combination with existing data, represent for the first time all major molluscan groups. We analysed multiple data sets containing up to 216,402 sites and 1,185 gene regions using multiple models and methods. Our results support the clade Aculifera, containing the three molluscan groups with spicules but without true shells, and they support the monophyly of Conchifera. Monoplacophora is not the sister group to other Conchifera but to Cephalopoda. Strong support is found for a clade that comprises Scaphopoda (tusk shells), Gastropoda and Bivalvia, with most analyses placing Scaphopoda and Gastropoda as sister groups. This well-resolved tree will constitute a framework for further studies of mollusc evolution, development and anatomy.

Concepts: Phylogenetics, Mollusca, Snail, Bivalvia, Clam, Cephalopod, Octopus, Monoplacophora


Understanding mollusk calcification sensitivity to ocean acidification (OA) requires a better knowledge of calcification mechanisms. Especially in rapidly calcifying larval stages, mechanisms of shell formation are largely unexplored-yet these are the most vulnerable life stages. Here we find rapid generation of crystalline shell material in mussel larvae. We find no evidence for intracellular CaCO3 formation, indicating that mineral formation could be constrained to the calcifying space beneath the shell. Using microelectrodes we show that larvae can increase pH and [CO3(2-)] beneath the growing shell, leading to a ~1.5-fold elevation in calcium carbonate saturation state (Ωarag). Larvae exposed to OA exhibit a drop in pH, [CO3(2-)] and Ωarag at the site of calcification, which correlates with decreased shell growth, and, eventually, shell dissolution. Our findings help explain why bivalve larvae can form shells under moderate acidification scenarios and provide a direct link between ocean carbonate chemistry and larval calcification rate.

Concepts: Larva, Mineral, Calcium carbonate, Mollusca, Carbonic acid, Calcite, Aragonite, Ocean acidification


Orthrozanclus is a shell-bearing, sclerite covered Cambrian organism of uncertain taxonomic affinity, seemingly representing an intermediate between its fellow problematica Wiwaxia and Halkieria. Attempts to group these slug-like taxa into a single ‘halwaxiid’ clade nevertheless present structural and evolutionary difficulties. Here we report a new species of Orthrozanclus from the early Cambrian Chengjiang Lagerstätte. The scleritome arrangement and constitution in this material corroborates the link between Orthrozanclus and Halkieria, but not with Wiwaxia - and calls into question its purported relationship with molluscs. Instead, the tripartite construction of the halkieriid scleritome finds a more compelling parallel in the camenellan tommotiids, relatives of the brachiopods and phoronids. Such a phylogenetic position would indicate the presence of a scleritome in the common ancestor of the three major trochozoan lineages, Mollusca, Annelida and Brachiozoa. On this view, the absence of fossil Ediacaran sclerites is evidence against any ‘Precambrian prelude’ to the explosive diversification of these phyla in the Cambrian, c. 540-530 million years ago.

Concepts: Evolution, Annelid, Mollusca, Wiwaxia, Halkieria, Orthrozanclus, Sclerite, Halwaxiida