Marine Biology

, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 319–346

Morphological patterns in high-intertidal gastropods: Adaptive strategies and their limitations

  • G. J. Vermeij

DOI: 10.1007/BF00354275

Cite this article as:
Vermeij, G.J. Marine Biology (1973) 20: 319. doi:10.1007/BF00354275


An analysis of shell form in several families of high-intertidal herbivorous gastropods has revealed the existence of morphological gradients. Among tropical littorinids, relative spire height and degree of development of external shell sculpture generally increase interspecifically, and often intraspecifically, from low to high shore levels. This gradient is also evident from temperate to tropical latitudes, and may be modified or overridden by exposure to wave action and other factors. Among acmaeid, patellid, and siphonariid limpets, there is a well-marked interspecific increase in relative shell height with increasing shore level, but latitudinal trends in morphology cannot at present be distinguished. Evidence from both tropical and temperate coasts indicates that limpets found in shaded places tend to have smoother shells than those often exposed to direct sunlight. In the Neritidae, relative shell globosity tends to increase interspecifically from low to high shore levels; most high-shore species have strong shell sculpture, with the base of the shell only slightly excavated. A decrease in the number of neritid species towards higher latitudes is accompanied by selective deletion of globose, strongly sculptured types living at high shore levels. Neritids and some limpets can employ evaporative cooling as a mechanism for temperature regulation. The morphological gradients in these groups reflect a relative increase in the volume of the extravisceral cavity (water reservoir) and a decrease in the area in contact with the substratum, as well as a relative decrease in the rate of water loss, in an upshore direction. Neritids are better adapted than limpets to high temperature and desiccation stresses because of their ability to regulate rate of evaporation and contact between soft parts and substratum. These differences are reflected in the complementary patterns of latitudinal diversity in the two groups. In Littorinidae, which attach to the substratum by a mucus film, the morphological gradients reflect a minimization of water loss and substratum contaet, and a maximization of reflective relative to absorptive surface area.

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1973

Authors and Affiliations

  • G. J. Vermeij
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA

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