Accumulation of motile elongated micro-organisms in turbulence

Caijuan Zhan, Gaetano Sardina, Enkeleida Lushi, Luca Brandt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


We study the effect of turbulence on marine life by performing numerical simulations of motile micro-organisms, 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-organisms 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 more slowly 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 micro-organisms that can vary their shape and their preferential orientation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)22-36
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Applied Mathematics


  • biological fluid dynamics
  • micro-organism dynamics


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