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Smart growth: Marine snails know how to budget their housing costs

Smart growth: Marine snails know how to budget their housing costs

Image: Marine gastropods (snails): top left (temperate; Vic, Australia), top right (tropical; north Queensland, Australia), bottom left (temperate, U.K.), bottom right (polar, Antarctica). Image credit: Sue Ann Watson.

New research led by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University suggests that the reason why sea shells from warm tropical waters are comparatively larger than their cold water relatives is due to ‘housing cost.’

Using an impressive data set spanning over 16,000 km, with sampling locations from the chilly Arctic waters off Svalbard, Norway to the balmy seas off Singapore, the researchers found that sea snails and other calcifying marine molluscs are frugal investors in their cost of housing and use less than 10% of their energy for shell growth.

“We found the amount of energy devoted to shell-building is fairly low in marine molluscs,” Dr Sue-Ann Watson from CoralCoE said. “This discovery helps scientists better understand the pole-to-pole shell size trends we observe. For example, our research suggests that cold water marine molluscs, in places like Antarctica, had to work a bit harder to build their shells, using more of their available energy. To keep costs down, we found that cold water molluscs opt to maintain a more modest and affordable living space.”

To build their limestone (or calcium carbonate) shells, marine animals must obtain raw materials from seawater—a process known as ‘biomineralisation’. The availability of these key resources is influenced by temperature, making them more accessible and ‘cheaper’ in warmer waters.

Media issued by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

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