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Effectiveness of micromorphy against drilling predation: Insights from early Miocene faunal assemblage of Quilon limestone, India

By Debarati Chattopadhyay, K. S. Venu gopal, Devapriya Chattopadhyay

Posted 26 Nov 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/856260

The nature of drilling predation, although well documented for molluscan fossils, is understudied for micromolluscs (<5mm). Studying predation in micromolluscs is especially critical in evaluating the adaptive significance of micromorphy against predation and assessing the importance of predator-prey size relationship (PPSR). This study documents drilling predation event in microbivalves from early Miocene (Burdigalian) fossil assemblage of Quilon limestone from Kerala, India. Our sample of ~2000 valves represent nine families with an average drilling frequency (DF) of 0.06 and an incomplete drilling frequency (IDF) of 0.26. The characteristic drillhole morphology and occurrence of five genera of modern drilling gastropods (Naticid: Natica, Tanea and Polinices; Muricid: Triplex and Dermomurex) from the same locality reveals the predator identity. Predation in the studied assemblage is found to be highly selective in terms of prey taxa, size, mobility and site selection. Six out of nine families show evidence of predation indicating taxon selectivity. Poor correlation between DF and abundance further supports this view. Failed attacks are strongly correlated with morphological features such as surface ornamentation (Lucinidae), presence of conchiolin layers (Corbulidae). Drilling occurs primarily on medium size class and prey outside this size range show lower rate of attack. This indicates the existence of an “inverse size refugia” for extremely small prey along with the classical size refugia existing for large prey. Mobility is found to be a deterrent to drilling predation and it also increases failure.  Microbenthos of Quilon limestone shows a lower predation intensity in comparison to the Miocene macrobenthos worldwide including coeval formation of the Kutch Basin. The interaction in microbenthos is more strongly size-dependent in contrast to the Kutch fauna. Reduced predation intensity in microfauna and existence of “inverse size refugia” support the claim of micromorphy acting as a defense mechanism and highlights the role of size-dependent predation in marine benthos.

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