Mechanism of a plastic phenotypic response: predator-induced shell thickening in the intertidal gastropod Littorina obtusata


Dr. Rémy Rochette, Biology Department, University of New Brunswick (Saint John), 100 Tucker Park Road, P.O. Box 5050, Saint John, NB, E2L 4L5 Canada. Tel.: 506 648-5988; fax: 506 648-5811;


Phenotypic plasticity has been the object of considerable interest over the past several decades, but in few cases are mechanisms underlying plastic responses well understood. For example, it is unclear whether predator-induced changes in gastropod shell morphology represent an active physiological response or a by-product of reduced feeding. We address this question by manipulating feeding and growth of intertidal snails, Littorina obtusata, using two approaches: (i) exposure to predation cues from green crabs Carcinus maenas and (ii) reduced food availability, and quantifying growth in shell length, shell mass, and body mass, as well as production of faecal material and shell micro-structural characteristics (mineralogy and organic fraction) after 96 days. We demonstrate that L. obtusata actively increases calcification rate in response to predation threat, and that this response entails energetic and developmental costs. That this induced response is not strictly tied to the animal's behaviour should enhance its evolutionary potential.