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Visual selection of shell colour in two littoral prosobranchs
Heller, J. (1975). Visual selection of shell colour in two littoral prosobranchs. Zool. J. Linn. Soc. 56(2): 153-170
In: Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. Academic Press: London. ISSN 0024-4082, more
Peer reviewed article  

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    Colour; Environmental effects; Shells; Littorina nigrolineata Philippi, 1846 [WoRMS]; Littorina rudis (Maton, 1797) [WoRMS]; Littorina saxatilis (Olivi, 1792) [WoRMS]; ANE, British Isles [Marine Regions]; Marine

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  • Heller, J.

    The rough periwinkle Littorina 'saxatilis' exhibits a wide range of shell colours. In current literature it is claimed that these colours are not related to the environment, that they arise randomly as genetic accidents and that they have little positive survival value. In a previous paper it has been shown that, in Wales, 'saxatilis' consists of 4 separate, fully sympatric spp. This paper reports an investigation as to whether the colour of 2 of these species, nigrolineata and rudis, is related to the colour of the background. Because of difficulties in quantitatively describing the colour of the background it was decided to concentrate mainly upon one aspect: whether or not the frequency of red shells is larger upon shores consisting of red sandstone than elsewhere in Wales. In both spp the association between red shells and red sandstone is highly significant. All nigrolineata samples in which red was found at a frequency > 15% are from red sandstone. On red sandstone, red shells of this sp were found mainly upon sheltered shores, their frequency decreasing and that of white shells increasing with exposure. This may be because barnacles, which occupy the same vertical zone as nigrolineata, are more abundant upon exposed shores. Partly covering the red rock, barnacles create a white background upon which white shells, rather than red, are cryptic. Yellow shells are found mainly on sheltered shores, where the brown alga Fucus is abundant. It was observed that when the tide is in and the algae spread out, a yellow shell situated beneath them is well concealed. Yellow is also found upon barnacles which because of fungal and lichen infections, are dirty yellow. It is suggested that a striped ('nigrolineated') pattern breaks up the shape of the shell. It also resembles the colour of the dark rock and the dark sutures between barnacle plates. In rudis 80% of the samples containing over 25% red are from red sandstone. Contrast to nigrolineata, in this sp the relative frequency of red decreases on sheltered shores. This could be because the brown alga Pelvetia, which occupies the same vertical zone as rudis, is more abundant in sheltered conditions and its colour partly covers over that of the rock beneath. The fact that in both spp red shells are more frequent upon red sandstone than elsewhere in the study area, suggests that visual selection is restricting their distribution to the background that they match most. Rock pipits and shore-crabs prey upon winkles. They have colour perception and could be partly responsible for this selection.

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