• Gastropoda;
  • Mollusca;
  • Early Ontogeny;
  • Protoconch;
  • mass extinctions;
  • selectivity


The shell of marine gastropods conserves and reflects early ontogeny, including embryonic and larval stages, to a high degree when compared with other marine invertebrates. Planktotrophic larval development is indicated by a small embryonic shell (size is also related to systematic placement) with little yolk followed by a multiwhorled shell formed by a free-swimming veliger larva. Basal gastropod clades (e.g. Vetigastropoda) lack planktotrophic larval development. The great majority of Late Palaeozoic and Mesozoic ‘derived’ marine gastropods (Neritimorpha, Caenogastropoda and Heterobranchia) with known protoconch had planktotrophic larval development. Dimensions of internal moulds of protoconchs suggest that planktotrophic larval development was largely absent in the Cambrian and evolved at the Cambrian–Ordovician transition, mainly due to increasing benthic predation. The evolution of planktotrophic larval development offered advantages and opportunities such as more effective dispersal, enhanced gene flow between populations and prevention of inbreeding. Early gastropod larval shells were openly coiled and weakly sculptured. During the Mid- and Late Palaeozoic, modern tightly coiled larval shells (commonly with strong sculpture) evolved due to increasing predation pressure in the plankton. The presence of numerous Late Palaeozoic and Triassic gastropod species with planktotrophic larval development suggests sufficient primary production although direct evidence for phytoplankton is scarce in this period. Contrary to previous suggestions, it seems unlikely that the end-Permian mass extinction selected against species with planktotrophic larval development. The molluscan classes with highest species diversity (Gastropoda and Bivalvia) are those which may have planktotrophic larval development. Extremely high diversity in such groups as Caenogastropoda or eulamellibranch bivalves is the result of high phylogenetic activity and is associated with the presence of planktotrophic veliger larvae in many members of these groups, although causality has not been shown yet. A new gastropod species and genus, Anachronistella peterwagneri, is described from the Late Triassic Cassian Formation; it is the first known Triassic gastropod with an openly coiled larval shell.