Clay-shielded estuarine gastropods are better protected against environmental acidification than unshielded individuals

Graphical abstract.


  • Acidified estuaries compromise building and threaten dissolution of gastropods shells.
  • Periostracum of Neripteron snails directs formation of an outer shell clay shield.
  • Shield constructed of the mineral illite is tightly chemically-bonded to the periostracum.
  • The more reflective unshielded shells showed a greater rate of dissolution.
  • Ecological and evolutionary constraints on carbonate shell building predict outer protection.


The effects of progressive global acidification on the shells of marine organisms is a topic of much current interest. Most studies on molluscan shell resistance to dissolution consider the carbonate mineral component, with less known about the protective role of the outer organic periostracum. Outer-shell resistance would seem especially important to gastropods living in carbonate-undersaturated and calcium-deficient estuarine waters that threaten shell dissolution and constrain CaCO3 production. We tested this prediction using gastropods from an acidified estuarine population (Neripteron violaceum) that form a clay shield outside the periostracum. Specifically, we aimed to show that the carbonate shell component lacks integrity, that the formation of the clay shield is directed by the organism, and that the clay shield functions to protect against shell dissolution. We found no evidence for any specific carbonate dissolution resistance strategy in the thin, predominantly aragonitic shells of these gastropods. Shield formation was directed by an ornamented periostracum which strongly bonded illite elements (e.g., Fe, Al and S), that become available through suspension in the water column. In unshielded individuals, CaCO3 erosion was initiated randomly across the shell (not age-related) and progressed rapidly when the periostracum was breached. A light reflectance technique showed qualitatively that shield consolidation is negatively-related to shell erosion. These findings support a conceptual framework for gastropod outer-shell responses to acidification that considers both environmental and evolutionary constraints on shell construction. We describe a novel strategy for shell protection against dissolution, highlighting the diversity of mechanisms available to gastropods facing extreme coastal acidification.

David J. Marshall D. J. & Basilios Tsikouras B., 2023. Clay-shielded estuarine gastropods are better protected against environmental acidification than unshielded individuals. Science of the Total Environment 866: 161367. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.161367. Article.

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