Filter feeders and plankton increase particle encounter rates through flow regime control

  • Humphries S
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Collisions between particles or between particles and other objects are fundamental to many processes that we take for granted. They drive the functioning of aquatic ecosystems, the onset of rain and snow precipitation, and the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, powders and crystals. Here, I show that the traditional assumption that viscosity dominates these situations leads to consistent and large-scale underestimation of encounter rates between particles and of deposition rates on surfaces. Numerical simulations reveal that the encounter rate is Reynolds number dependent and that encounter efficiencies are consistent with the sparse experimental data. This extension of aerosol theory has great implications for understanding of selection pressure on the physiology and ecology of organisms, for example filter feeders able to gather food at rates up to 5 times higher than expected. I provide evidence that filter feeders have been strongly selected to take advantage of this flow regime and show that both the predicted peak concentration and the steady-state concentrations of plankton during blooms are approximately 33% of that predicted by the current models of particle encounter. Many ecological and industrial processes may be operating at substantially greater rates than currently assumed.

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  • S. Humphries

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