Anaerobiosis and a Theory of Growth Line Formation

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Science  23 Dec 1977:
Vol. 198, Issue 4323, pp. 1222-1227
DOI: 10.1126/science.198.4323.1222


Microstructural growth increments within the shells of numerous Recent and fossil molluscs are interpreted as reflections of alternating periods of shell deposition and dissolution, occurring during aerobic and anaerobic respiration, respectively. The acidic end products of anaerobic metabolism are neutralized by calcium carbonate from the shell, leaving a relatively insoluble organic residue at the mantle-shell interface. With the return of oxygenated conditions and resumption of aerobic respiration, this organic material is reincorporated within the shell. Inasmuch as metabolic changes are often synchronized with lunar or solar cycles (or both), we are led to the nearly paradoxical conclusion that, as a result of shell destructive processes, a relatively complete and detailed record of both short- and long-term growth is often preserved within the molluscan exoskeleton. Analyses of relationships between ambient oxygen concentrations and shell structural types may eventually prove useful, in paleoecological studies, for determination of dissolved oxygen gradients in Phanerozoic marine environments.

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