Metabolic dominance of bivalves predates brachiopod diversity decline by more than 150 million years

Jonathan L. Payne, Noel A. Heim, Matthew L. Knope, Craig R. McClain


Brachiopods and bivalves feed in similar ways and have occupied the same environments through geological time, but brachiopods were far more diverse and abundant in the Palaeozoic whereas bivalves dominate the post-Palaeozoic, suggesting a transition in ecological dominance 250 Ma. However, diversity and abundance data alone may not adequately describe key changes in ecosystem function, such as metabolic activity. Here, we use newly compiled body size data for 6066 genera of bivalves and brachiopods to calculate metabolic rates and revisit this question from the perspective of energy use, finding that bivalves already accounted for a larger share of metabolic activity in Palaeozoic oceans. We also find that the metabolic activity of bivalves has increased by more than two orders of magnitude over this interval, whereas brachiopod metabolic activity has declined by more than 50%. Consequently, the increase in bivalve energy metabolism must have occurred via the acquisition of new food resources rather than through the displacement of brachiopods. The canonical view of a mid-Phanerozoic transition from brachiopod to bivalve dominance results from a focus on taxonomic diversity and numerical abundance as measures of ecological importance. From a metabolic perspective, the oceans have always belonged to the clams.

  • Received November 27, 2013.
  • Accepted February 28, 2014.
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