Field of Science

Dalmanellidae

The photo above (copyright Dave), may or may not show Dalmanella, a brachiopod originally described from the later Ordovician of Sweden. Dalmanella belongs to the Orthida, one of the earliest groups of articulate brachiopods to appear in the fossil record ('articulate' meaning that the two valves of the shell are hinged together, not that they are particularly well spoken). The Dalmanellidae, the family to which Dalmanella belongs, are known from the lower Ordovician to the lower Carboniferous (Williams & Wright 1965).

Over the years, numerous fossil brachiopods from Europe and North America have been assigned to Dalmanella, leading Jin & Bergström (2010) to describe it as "perhaps one of the most commonly reported orthide brachiopods". However, if truth be told, the main reason Dalmanella is so widely recognised is because of how perfectly unremarkable it is. It is small and unspecialised, and the genera within Dalmanellidae have mostly been separated by somewhat vague characters such as shell shape and ribbing pattern. Some studies of variation in dalmanellid populations have questioned whether characters used to separate genera can even be used to separate species or whether they may vary within a single population.

This uncertainty lead Jin & Bergström (2010) to restudy the original type species of Dalmanella, D. testudinaria. Their conclusion was that D. testudinaria was morphologically distinct from North American species attributed to the genus: for instance, the midline of the dorsal valve bore an interspace (the furrow between two costae) in D. testudinaria but a raised costa in the American species. The myophore, a process associated with the hinge to which the muscles responsible for opening the shell would have attached in life, is much narrower in D. testudinaria than in the American species. Not only were the morphologically distinct, they were ecologically distinct as well: D. testudinaria being found in cooler, deeper waters while the American species basked in tropical shallows. Not for the first time, it appears that an external sameyness masks an internal divergence.

REFERENCES

Jin, J., & J. Bergström. 2010. True Dalmanella and taxonomic implications for some Late Ordovician dalmanellid brachiopods from North America. GFF 132 (1): 13–24.

Williams, A., & A. D. Wright. 1965. Orthida. In: Moore, R. C. (ed.) Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology pt H. Brachiopoda vol. 1 pp. H299–H359. The Geological Society of America, Inc.: Boulder (Colorado), and The University of Kansas Press: Lawrence (Kansas).

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