The unusual mineral vaterite in shells of the freshwater bivalve Corbicula fluminea from the UK
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- Spann, N., Harper, E.M. & Aldridge, D.C. Naturwissenschaften (2010) 97: 743. doi:10.1007/s00114-010-0692-9
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Asian clams (Corbicula fluminea) with abnormally thickened shell valves were found in four rivers in the UK (Rivers Yare, Waveney, Thames and New Bedford River). The material making up these malformations was the rare calcium carbonate polymorph vaterite. Vaterite is seldom found in the natural environment because it is less stable than the other calcium carbonate polymorphs (aragonite and calcite). In the few reported cases of vaterite formation in molluscs, it is usually related to unusual biomineralisation events such as shell regeneration, pearls and initial stages of shell formation. We compared two populations from the Rivers Yare and Waveney in the Norfolk Broads, UK, one (River Waveney) displaying dominantly the normal Corbicula shell form with aragonitic shells. In the River Yare population, all individuals sampled had shell deformations to different extents. These deformations were apparent as bulges on the inside of the ventral shell margin. X-ray diffraction confirmed that the shell material in the bulges of recently collected clams was vaterite. Other parts of the deformed shells were aragonitic. The shell deformations alter the shell morphology, leading to higher and wider shells. The shell microstructure is fibrous in the vateritic parts and crossed-lamellar in the aragonitic parts of deformed or non-deformed shells. The cause for the malformations is probably a disrupted biomineralisation process in the bivalves. Fossil Corbicula specimens from the late Pleistocene had similar deformations, suggesting that this is not a response to anthropogenic causes, such as pollution.