Accumulation of motile elongated micro-organisms in turbulence

Authors: Zhan, C.J.Z., Sardina, G.S., Lushi, E., Brandt, L.B.
Document Type: Article
Pubstate: Published
Volume: 739   22-36
Year: 2014


We study the effect of turbulence on marine life by performing numerical simulations of motile microorganisms, modelled as prolate spheroids, in isotropic homogeneous turbulence. We show that the clustering and patchiness observed in laminar flows, linear shear and vortex flows, are significantly reduced in a three-dimensional turbulent flow mainly because of the complex topology; elongated micro-orgamisms show some level of clustering in the case of swimmers without any preferential alignment whereas spherical swimmers remain uniformly distributed. Micro-organisms with one preferential swimming direction (e.g. gyrotaxis) still show significant clustering if spherical in shape, whereas prolate swimmers remain more uniformly distributed. Due to their large sensitivity to the local shear, these elongated swimmers react slower to the action of vorticity and gravity and therefore do not have time to accumulate in a turbulent flow. These results show how purely hydrodynamic effects can alter the ecology of microorganisms that can vary their shape and their preferential orientation.