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Do predatory drill holes influence the transport and deposition of gastropod shells?



Predatory gastropod drill holes are an abundant and easily identifiable signal of predation in ancient and modern molluscan shell assemblages. Many workers have used drill holes to interpret patterns of predation intensity and success in fossil assemblages. These studies are predicated on the assumption that the relative abundances of drilled and undrilled shells in an assemblage accurately reflect those of the community from which the shells were originally derived. The underlying assumption is that drilled and undrilled shells are transported into shell accumulations in the same manner. If this assumption is false, shell accumulations do not represent taphonomically unbiased samples, but rather preferentially sorted deposits from which conclusions about drilling predation cannot be made. To test the hypothesis that drilled and undrilled gastropod shells transport at different flow velocities, multiple transport trials were conducted on two morphologically distinct taxa, Olivella biplicata and Euspira lewisii. Individual specimens were placed in a recirculating flume tank and observed from rest (in stable orientation) until they were transported downstream. During each trial, flow velocity was slowly and incrementally increased, so as to avoid pulses of acceleration, until shells began to move downstream. Drilled and undrilled specimens of both taxa demonstrate statistically significant correlations between shell mass and average transport velocity. Similarly sized drilled and undrilled specimens of both taxa do not exhibit significant differences in transport velocity. These results indicate that predatory drill holes do not change the hydrodynamic properties of gastropod shells. Therefore, gastropod shell assemblages are not likely to be affected by differential transport and sorting of drilled and undrilled shells.