Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Peter J. Harries, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Gregory S. Herbert, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Eric A. Oches, Ph.D.


drilling frequency, predation intensity, escalation, boring, paleoecology


The complex interaction between predators and their prey is rarely preserved in the fossil record. However, predation of marine mollusks by drilling gastropods leaves a diagnostic hole in the shell of the prey, possibly allowing for quantitative analysis of this ecological interaction. Drilling frequency, as measured in marine mollusks both in the Modern and fossil record, has been heralded as a potential opportunity to quantify these ecological interactions and use these values in the testing of hypotheses.

This study employed the collection, tallying, and analysis of bulk samples derived from shelly deposits on 45 Modern beaches along the contiguous coast of the southeast United States (Virginia Beach, VA to Port Isabella, TX). The tallying scheme allowed for pooling and reduction of the data to compare drilling frequencies at several taxonomic and geographic scales. In addition, multivariate clustering analyses was used to generate groups of similar taxonomic abundances for direct comparison.

Understanding potential spatial variation in the natural environment is paramount to using quantified values of drilling frequency in temporal and spatial studies in the fossil record. Calculated drilling frequencies for bulk (location) samples ranged from 0 to over 100%. Similar ranges of drilling frequency were observed in more finely defined taxonomic groups. Calculated drilling frequency was higher in the Carolinian province as compared to the Gulf-Louisianian and Virginian provinces. No correlation between drilling frequency and latitude was observed at any scale. An area of substantially increased drilling frequency was observed along the Carolina coast, at the ecotone between the Carolinian and Virginian provinces, suggesting that some environmental condition is present and responsible for the local increase in drilling frequency.

Finally, little attention has been paid to sampling techniques and their subsequent impact on the analysis of drilling frequency. As the bulk samples represent aggregate accumulations of shells from a myriad of environments, this introduces pronounced variation in the analysis that has not been previously accounted for. Statistically, much larger abundances of specimens in individual taxa, approaching 450 values for bivalves, are needed to effectively constrain this variability.