The effect of external flow on the feeding currents of sessile microorganisms

Rachel E. Pepper*, Emily E. Riley, Matthieu Baron, Thomas Hurot, Lasse Tor Nielsen, M. A. R. Koehl, Thomas Kiørboe, Anders Andersen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Microscopic sessile suspension feeders live attached to surfaces and, by consuming bacteria-sized prey and by being consumed, they form an important part of aquatic ecosystems. Their environmental impact is mediated by their feeding rate, which depends on a self-generated feeding current. The feeding rate has been hypothesized to be limited by recirculating eddies that cause the organisms to feed from water that is depleted of food particles. However, those results considered organisms in still water, while ambient flow is often present in their natural habitats. We show, using a point-force model, that even very slow ambient flow, with speed several orders of magnitude less than that of the self-generated feeding current, is sufficient to disrupt the eddies around perpendicular suspension feeders, providing a constant supply of food-rich water. However, the feeding rate decreases in external flow at a range of non-perpendicular orientations due to the formation of recirculation structures not seen in still water. We quantify the feeding flow and observe such recirculation experimentally for the suspension feeder Vorticella convallaria in external flows typical of streams and rivers.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20200953
JournalJournal of the Royal Society. Interface
Issue number175
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Environmental flows
  • Vorticella
  • Sessile suspension feeders
  • Recirculation
  • Low Reynolds number
  • Feeding currents

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