Radula properties in heterobranchs
The molluscan feeding structure is the radula, a chitinous membrane with teeth, which are highly adapted to the food and the substrate to which the food is attached. In Polyplacophora and Patellogastropoda, the handling of hard ingesta can be facilitated by high content of chemical compounds containing Fe or Si in the tooth cusps. Other taxa, however, possess teeth that are less mineralized, even though animals have to avoid structural failure or high wear during feeding as well. Here, we investigated the gastropod Gastropteron rubrum, feeding on hard Foraminifera, diatoms and Porifera. Tooth morphologies and wear were documented by scanning electron microscopy and their mechanical properties were tested by nanoindentation. We determined that gradients of hard- and stiffness run along each tooth, decreasing from cusp to basis. We also found that inner lateral teeth were harder and stiffer than the outer ones. These findings allowed us to propose hypotheses about the radula-ingesta interaction. In search for the origins of the gradients, teeth were visualized using confocal laser scanning microscopy, to determine the degree of tanning, and analyzed with energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy, to test the elemental composition. We found that the mechanical gradients did not have their origins in the elemental content, as the teeth did not contain high proportions of metals or other minerals. This indicates that their origin might be the degree of tanning. However, in the tooth surfaces that interact with the ingesta high Si and Ca contents were determined, which is likely an adaptation to reduce wear.