Shell color polymorphism in marine gastropods

Evol Appl. 2022 Jun 7;16(2):202-222. doi: 10.1111/eva.13416. eCollection 2023 Feb.


Marine gastropods are characterized by an incredible variation in shell color. In this review, we aim to introduce researchers to previous studies of shell color polymorphism in this group of animals, trying to provide an overview of the topic and highlighting some potential avenues for future research. For this, we tackle the different aspects of shell color polymorphism in marine gastropods: its biochemical and genetic basis, its patterns of spatial and temporal distribution, as well as its potential evolutionary causes. In particular, we put special emphasis on the evolutionary studies that have been conducted so far to reveal the evolutionary mechanisms responsible for the maintenance of shell color polymorphism in this group of animals, as it constitutes the least addressed aspect in existing literature reviews. Several general conclusions can be drawn from our review: First, natural selection is commonly involved in the maintenance of gastropod color polymorphism; second, although the contribution of neutral forces (gene flow-genetic drift equilibrium) to shell color polymorphism maintenance do not seem to be particularly important, it has rarely been studied systematically; third, a relationship between shell color polymorphism and mode of larval development (related to dispersal capability) may exist. As for future studies, we suggest that a combination of both classical laboratory crossing experiments and -Omics approaches may yield interesting results on the molecular basis of color polymorphism. We believe that understanding the various causes of shell color polymorphism in marine gastropods is of great importance not only to understand how biodiversity works, but also for protecting such biodiversity, as knowledge of its evolutionary causes may help implement conservation measures in those species or ecosystems that are threatened.

Keywords: clines; crypsis; frequency‐dependent selection; genetic drift; natural selection; snails.

Publication types

  • Review