Field of Science

Alvania

It's a general rule with organisms that species diversity increases as size decreases (at least down to about the millimetre range, below which things get a bit more complicated). That's certainly the case with molluscs, whose range clearly favours the tiny.

Alvania cimex, copyright Alboran Shells.


Alvania is a cosmopolitan genus of marine gastropods, found in most parts of the world except the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic (Ponder 1984). The average Alvania species is less than five millimetres in total length, and other members of the family they belong to, the Rissoidae, are similarly wee. The shell of Alvania species varies from elongate-conical to more squatly conical in shape, and generally has a sculpture of both axial and spiral ridges. In some species the axial and spiral ribs are both similarly prominent; in others, the spiral ridges are more strongly developed.

Rissoids may be found crawling on seaweed or sheltered amongst stones or other rubble. Alvania species seem to be more likely to be found in the latter habitat than the former. Alvania have a smaller mucous gland on the rear of the foot than species of Rissoa, a related genus that is more likely to be found on the weeds. The mucus produced by this gland assists rissoids in clinging to their substrate or the surface film, and its reduction in Alvania is presumably connected to their preference for the low life. Rissoids are grazers on microalgae or deposit feeders; those species found on seaweeds will feed on diatoms and the like growing over the seaweed rather than on the seaweed itself. Among European species, A. punctura is known to selectively pick out diatoms and dinoflagellates from among detritus when feeding whereas A. jeffreysi may be less discriminating in what it swallows.

Alvania subcalathus, copyright H. Zell.


The greater number of Alvania species are planktotrophic as larvae, and as described in some of my previous posts on turrids, their shells have protoconches to match. Nevertheless, the genus also includes some direct-developing species with fewer protoconch spirals. The Mediterranean species A. cimex and A. mammillata are almost indistinguishable when mature except by features of the shell apex, which is broader with fewer spirals to the protoconch in the latter (Verduin 1986). If A. mammillata is a direct developer while A. cimex has a planktotrophic larva, it would tally up with the situation elsewhere seen among turrids.

REFERENCES

Ponder, W. F. 1984. A review of the genera of the Rissoidae (Mollusca: Mesogastropoda: Rissoacea). Records of the Australian Museum Supplement 4: 1–221.

Verduin, A. 1986. Alvania cimex (L.) s.l. (Gastropoda, Prosobranchia), an aggregate species. Basteria 50: 25–32.

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