The influence of turbulence on plankton predation strategies.

Research paper by D M DM Lewis, T J TJ Pedley

Indexed on: 09 Jun '01Published on: 09 Jun '01Published in: Journal of Theoretical Biology


The importance of predation in regulating the size of competing plankton and larval fish populations has long been appreciated. However, it has only recently been recognized that turbulence must have a significant influence on predator-prey interactions because most rival species of microorganisms co-exist in oceanic or fast moving fresh water flows. Turbulence is likely to influence predation strategies in two ways. The extra energy imparted to a micro-organism from the flow field will enhance the number of encounters or "contacts" between predators and prey. At the same time, because the velocity of a predator relative to its potential prey will be increased, the time-scale over which a capture must be completed is reduced. Balancing the benefits of extra encounters with the drawbacks of more difficult captures, will dictate an optimal predation strategy, either foraging behaviour or ambush feeding, on the predator. This will depend on its own and the prey's swimming capabilities, as well as the characteristics of the turbulent environment. In this paper some previous work, examining the increased encounter rate in turbulence, will be extended to look at the capture problem. The main proposal is that the capture event should be encapsulated in a capture probability function, from which the optimal predation strategy can be derived. As an illustration, plausible capture probability functions will be postulated and the resulting predictions tested against numerical simulations carried out in a turbulent-like flow field. Good agreement between the predictions and the simulations is demonstrated.