High-latitude settings promote extreme longevity in fossil marine bivalves

David K. Moss, Linda C. Ivany, Robert B. Silver, John Schue, Emily G. Artruc

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


One of the longest-lived, noncolonial animals on the planet today is a bivalve that attains life spans in excess of 500 years and lives in a cold, seasonally food-limited setting. Separating the influence of temperature and food availability on life span in modern settings is difficult, as these two conditions covary. The life spans of fossil animals can provide insights into the role of environment in the evolution of extreme longevity that are not available from studies of modern taxa. We examine bivalves from the unique, nonanalogue, warm and high-latitude setting of Seymour Island, Antarctica, during the greenhouse intervals of the Late Cretaceous and Paleogene. Despite significant sampling limitations, we find that all 11 species examined are both slow growing and long-lived, especially when compared with modern bivalves living in similar temperature settings. While cool temperatures have long been thought to be a key factor in promoting longevity, our findings suggest an important role for caloric restriction brought about by the low and seasonal light regime of the high latitudes. Our life-history data, spanning three different families, emphasize that longevity is in part governed by environmental rather than solely phylogenetic or ecologic factors. Such findings have implications for both modern and ancient latitudinal diversity gradients, as a common correlate of slow growth and long life is delayed reproduction, which limits the potential for evolutionary change. While life spans of modern bivalves are well studied, data on life spans of fossil bivalves are sparse and largely anecdotal. Life histories of organisms from deep time can not only elucidate the controls on life span but also add a new dimension to our understanding of macroevolutionary patterns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)365-382
Number of pages18
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • Palaeontology


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