Larval and juvenile gastropods from a Carboniferous black shale: palaeoecology and implications for the evolution of the Gastropoda



A horizon in the late Visean Ruddle Shale from Arkansas contains the oldest well-preserved gastropod protoconchs known from the Americas. The gastropod fauna consists of a diverse larval shell assemblage and a low diversity assemblage of juvenile gastropods that probably had a benthic life habit. Gastropod larval shells are always isolated, i.e. the gastropods did not complete their life cycle (no metamorphosis) and were unable to become benthic. This was caused by unfavorable environmental conditions on the soft muddy bottom that was probably due to anaerobic to exaerobic conditions. The absence or scarcity of bioturbation caused by invertebrate detritus or sediment feeders in both shale and concretions (formed before compaction) favored preservation of the delicate larval shells. The lack or scarcity of infauna and bioturbation as well as the low diversity of the presumed benthos supports an interpretation of a quasi-anaerobic to exaerobic benthic environment. The superbly preserved larval shells demonstrate that there are more caenogastropod clades present in the late Palaeozoic than suggested previously. Some larval shell types have an openly coiled first whorl followed by a planktotrophic larval shell; openly coiled initial whorls are unknown from modern caenogastropods. The vetigastropods have a smooth protoconch of two whorls clearly demarked from the following whorls - a pattern unknown in modern vetigastropods which have a protoconch of less than one whorl and build no larval shell during their planktonic stage. This could indicate a link between Palaeozoic vetigastropods and the caenogastropods.