Comparative cephalopod shell strength and the role of septum morphology on stress distribution

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The evolution of complexly folded septa in ammonoids has long been a controversial topic. Explanations of the function of these folded septa can be divided into physiological and mechanical hypotheses with the mechanical functions tending to find widespread support. The complexity of the cephalopod shell has made it difficult to directly test the mechanical properties of these structures without oversimplification of the septal morphology or extraction of a small sub-domain. However, the power of modern finite element analysis now permits direct testing of mechanical hypothesis on complete, empirical models of the shells taken from computed tomographic data. Here we compare, for the first time using empirical models, the capability of the shells of extant Nautilus pompilius, Spirula spirula, and the extinct ammonite Cadoceras sp. to withstand hydrostatic pressure and point loads. Results show hydrostatic pressure imparts highest stress on the final septum with the rest of the shell showing minimal compression. S. spirula shows the lowest stress under hydrostatic pressure while N. pompilius shows the highest stress. Cadoceras sp. shows the development of high stress along the attachment of the septal saddles with the shell wall. Stress due to point loads decreases when the point force is directed along the suture as opposed to the unsupported chamber wall. Cadoceras sp. shows the greatest decrease in stress between the point loads compared to all other models. Greater amplitude of septal flutes corresponds with greater stress due to hydrostatic pressure; however, greater amplitude decreases the stress magnitude of point loads directed along the suture. In our models, sutural complexity does not predict greater resistance to hydrostatic pressure but it does seem to increase resistance to point loads, such as would be from predators. This result permits discussion of palaeoecological reconstructions on the basis of septal morphology. We further suggest that the ratio used to characterize septal morphology in the septal strength index and in calculations of tensile strength of nacre are likely insufficient. A better understanding of the material properties of cephalopod nacre may allow the estimation of maximum depth limits of shelled cephalopods through finite element analysis.


Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2434
Publication statusPublished - 2016

External IDs

Scopus 85032069058