Wasting away in the intertidal: the fate of chiton valves in an acidifying ocean

Chitons are locally common in New Zealand, and several studies have suggested that their valves are resistant to dissolution, so it seems contradictory that they are under-represented in the sediment and fossil records of New Zealand. Indeed, special resistance to dissolution seems counterintuitive since the valves are primarily made of aragonite. Here we examine the resistance of chiton skeletal material to dissolution in order to expand our understanding of how taphonomic forces affect chitons and to provide insight into the preservation potential of chiton valves. Live individuals of eight species of chitons were collected from Otago Peninsula, South Island, New Zealand. The valves were subjected to one of two pH treatments: ambient pH of 8.10 and reduced pH of 7.70. Notoplax violacea, Sypharochiton pelliserpentis, and S. sinclairi were the most resistant to dissolution while Acanthochitona zelandica, Chiton glaucus, Onithochiton neglectus, and Ischnochiton maorianus were more vulnerable to dissolution. Leptochiton inquinatus lost the most mass in both treatments, but did not show a significant difference between them. SEM images of the dorsal and ventral surfaces on each valve revealed low-pH damage to crystal structures in the articulamentum, while the tegmentum showed no significant damage. Chiton skeletal material in general does not appear to resist dissolution any better than other examined mollusks, but the resistant tegmentum confers considerable resilience to lowered pH. Chiton valves can last up to an estimated 45 years before becoming unrecognizable, which is much shorter than the normal temperate shallow-water exposure time of hundreds to thousands of years.

Peebles B. A. & Smith A. M., 2019. Wasting away in the intertidal: the fate of chiton valves in an acidifying ocean. Palaios 34 (6): 281-290. Article (subscription required).

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