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Modelling predation and mortality rates from the fossil record of gastropods

By Graham E Budd, Richard P. Mann

Posted 20 Jul 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/373399

Gastropods often show signs of unsuccessful attacks by predators in the form of healed scars in their shells. As such, fossil gastropods can be taken as providing a record of predation through geological time. However, interpreting the number of such scars has proved to be problematic - would a low number of scars mean a low rate of attack, or a high rate of success, for example? Here we develop a model of scar formation, and formally show that in general these two variables cannot be disambiguated without further information about population structure. Nevertheless, by making the probably reasonable assumptions that the non-predatory death rate is both constant and low, we show that it is possible to use relatively small assemblages of gastropods to produce accurate estimates of both attack and success rates, if the overall death rate can be estimated. We show in addition what sort of information would be required to solve this problem in more general cases. However, it is unlikely that it will be possible to extract the relevant information easily from the fossil record: a variety of important collection and taphonomic biases are likely to intervene to obscure the data that gastropod assemblages may yield.

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