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Broken arms and collateral damage: clues to predator-driven evolution

--their arms as a result of attacks by fish, Baumiller and Gahn reasoned that arm regeneration in fossil crinoids would be a good indicator of predator-prey interactions in the geologic past.

To test their idea, they examined more than 2,500 Paleozoic crinoids for evidence of arm regeneration, focusing on fossils from the Ordovician to Pennsylvanian Periods (490 to 290 million years ago). As predicted, they found that the only significant increase in regeneration frequency was during the Middle Paleozoic Marine Revolution.

"Indeed, the frequency of regeneration, which we regard as a proxy for predation intensity, was low during intervals before the Middle Paleozoic Marine Revolution and then there was a sudden increase, coincident with the diversification of predators and the increase in the evolutionary response of the prey," Baumiller said.

That's not the whole story, though. Baumiller and Gahn suspect that crinoids were not the intended targets of the predators that inflicted damage upon them, and that their broken arms were simply "collateral damage." Crinoids, Baumiller explained, play host to a variety of other organisms that take up residence on various parts of their bodies, and the predators were probably going after those creatures.

One way to test this notion would be to look for correlations between the degree of infestation and the rate of regeneration, and Baumiller, Gahn and Carlton Brett, a paleontologist from the University of Cincinnati, have applied for funding to do just that.


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Contact: Nancy Ross-Flanigan
rossflan@umich.edu
734-647-1853
University of Michigan
3-Sep-2004


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