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Urged on by urchins: How sea lilies got their get-up-and-go
Date:3/15/2010

Rich Mooi of the California Academy of Sciences suggested that sea urchins don't simply scavenge bits of dead sea lilies that they find on the ocean floor; they bite pieces right off their prey, giving sea lilies plenty of reason to shed their stalk ends like lizards' tails and scoot away.

When those findings were announced in 2005, the researchers said the next step was to scrutinize fossil crinoids for clues to how and when sea lilies developed the ability to shed their stalk ends and move around. In the new research being reported in PNAS, that's what they, along with Forest Gahn of Brigham Young University and Polish collaborators Mariusz Salamon and Przemyslaw Gorzelak, have done.

First, the researchers put sea urchins into a tank with detached crinoid arms, pieces of crinoid stalks and arms, and live crinoids. Every urchin that was given the opportunity at least nibbled on crinoids, and one even ate a whole feather star. This experiment not only confirmed that urchins prey on crinoids, but it also revealed that crinoid parts that pass undigested through urchins bear characteristic scratches and pits that match the size and shape of the teeth in the urchin's "mouth."

To find out whether urchins preyed on crinoids in the distant past, the researchers looked for the same kinds of bite marks on more than 2,500 crinoid stalk fossils from Poland, dating back to the middle of the Triassic period, some 225 million years ago. More than 500 of the fossils had the telltale markings.

The findings suggest that the development of motility in crinoids, as well as other escape strategies such as active swimming and floating, were stimulated by their interactions with predators. The time frame is significant, too, said Baumiller, professor of geological sciences and a curator at the U-M Museum of Paleontology. Some of the best examples of the effects of escalating interactions between predators and prey come from something called the Mesozoi
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Contact: Nancy Ross-Flanigan
rossflan@umich.edu
734-647-1853
University of Michigan
Source:Eurekalert

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