Fluid dynamic simulation suggests hopping locomotion in the Ordovician trilobite Placoparia

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Colonization of the water column by animals occurred gradually during the early Palaeozoic. However, the morphological and functional changes that took place during this colonization are poorly understood. The fossil record provides clear evidence of animals that were well adapted for swimming near the seafloor or in the open ocean, but recognising transitional forms is more problematic. Trilobites are a good model to explore the colonization of marine ecosystems. Here, we use computational fluid dynamics (CFD) to test between competing functional hypotheses in the Ordovician trilobite Placoparia. The CFD simulations exhibits hydrodynamics that promote detachment from the seafloor but also promote return to the seafloor following detachment, this is compatible with hopping locomotion. The results suggest that Placopara was not able to swim, but its hydrodynamics allowed it to hop long distances. This is consistent with the fossil record, as some ichnofossils show evidence of hopping. This type of locomotion could be useful to avoid predators as an escape mechanism. In addition, CFD simulation shows how the morphology of Placoparia is adapted to protect anterior appendices of the trunk and generate a ventral vortex that send food particles directly to the trilobite mouth. Adaptations in Placoparia allowed the first steps to evolved a new ecological habitat and consequently nektonization during the GOBE.
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