Walk the beach or peer into a tidepool anywhere along the northeastern U.S. coast, and you'll find shells stacked on top of one another. They're most likely common Atlantic slipper shells, a species of marine snail.
Scientists took a closer look at these ubiquitous snails, and discovered that how their larvae swim is key to the species' seeming residence in every nook and cranny along the coast. And to how the snails may be able to invade new territory.
Equipped with high-speed, high-resolution video, the researchers discovered how the larvae of these marine snails swim, a behavior that determines individual dispersal and ultimately, survival.
Researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and Stony Brook University grew Atlantic slipper limpet larvae, which can become slightly larger than a grain of rice, and recorded videos of them swimming.
In previous studies, it was thought that the larvae swim faster when they beat their hair-like cilia faster. However, this new research shows that's not the case.
"I was very surprised when I saw that there was no relationship between cilia beat frequency and how fast these animals swim," says Karen Chan, a WHOI scientist and the lead author of a paper published today in the journal PLOS ONE.
The larvae control how fast they swim by subtly shifting the position of their velar lobes--flat, disc-shaped wings fringed with cilia.
The ability to make small movements with these velar lobes, akin to how a bird adjusts the angle of its wings while soaring, demonstrates complex neuromuscular control.
"This careful study tells us a lot about how organisms interact with the marine environment, knowledge we need in a time of environmental change," says David Garrison, program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Ocean Sciences, which funded the research.
The Atlantic slipper shell is a marine snail nativ
|Contact: Cheryl Dybas|
National Science Foundation