Understanding the life orientation of fossil organisms, such as brachiopods, is not only important for understanding the biology of the organism in question, but it also can be used to interpret paleoecological information about the assemblages from which the specimens were derived. The dorsibiconvex brachiopod morphology is particularly common, especially among the Order Atrypida, yet there have been few independent, biomechanical studies to assess the life orientation of these brachiopods. In this study, we assess potential orientations of two end-member morphologies of a dorsibiconvex brachiopod, Pseudoatrypa lineata, from the Mid–Late Devonian of North America by placing realistic models in a flume.
Using materials with the specific gravity of calcium carbonate, we modeled two well-preserved Pseudoatrypa lineata from the Waterways Formation (Givetian–Frasnian, Alberta, Canada) to represent the original shell. The hydrodynamic stability of the models was assessed by placing the models in a recirculating flume in one of three initial orientations: (1) anterior commissure upstream, (2) umbo upstream, and (3) lateral (specimen perpendicular to flow), each with the dorsal and ventral valve topmost. The entire process was conducted both on a Plexiglas substrate and on well-sorted, mediumgrained sand. All scenarios were repeated five times for a total of sixty trials per specimen (120 total).
Flume trials indicate that neither brachiopod had a true hydrodynamically stable orientation.
Reorientations occurred at low velocities (~0.2 m/s), with transport occurring soon after (~0.3 m/s).
Assuming that a juvenile, pedunculate, dorsibiconvex brachiopod would initially have been oriented with its ventral valve topmost, our results suggest two outcomes: the brachiopods either (1) were attached via pedicles throughout their lives or (2) lived in quiet, undisturbed waters. Given the abundance of dorsibiconvex brachiopods in observed high-energy environments, our results indicate it is more conservative to assume dorsibiconvex brachiopods retained pedicles throughout their lives.