Numerical Study of the Unsteady Feeding Current in Calanoid Copepods

This research project will address the question, "Why are there two temporal types of generating feeding currents among herbivorous calanoid copepods"? That is, why do animals show an on/off pattern, creating an unsteady flow, when they have to overcome the inertia of the surrounding water every time they start moving?

We will first directly observe feeding animals in situ. Then, we will observe them in 3D in the laboratory to define (1) the structures of the feeding currents, and (2), the temporal patterns under different food regimes. The database, which includes the shapes and sizes of the animals observed, will be used for simulations using computational fluid dynamics (CFD). The research team consists of an applied mathematician/environmental fluid dynamicist (Jiang, WHOI), a biological oceanographer (Paffenhofer, SKIO), and two experimental marine biologists (Strickler and Janssen, UWM). Experiments will be conducted during a two-week stay at the Wrigley Marine Science Center where we will observe Calanus pacificus and Rhincalanus nasutus in situ and in the laboratory. The results will be data on the frequencies of switching the feeding current on/off, and on the structures and temporal changes of the water flow around the animals. We will also study the activity patterns of calanoid copepods from the ocean off Savannah, GA, under different food densities. All the data sets generated will be constantly used to design the simulations in CFD at WHOI. We expect to find evidence that there exist different survival strategies among calanoid copepods living in nutritionally dilute environments. The strategy to alternate the generation of a feeding current may be based on a compromise between low excess weight, large body size, and low food concentrations. This would contrast to the strategy of high excess weight, constant feeding current, large sensing range, and moderate food density.

Intellectual Merits

Planktonic copepods live in environments of varying and often severely limiting food abundances. So far few if any studies have addressed the adaptations of copepod behavioral repertoires to this diminished food availability. Our study is designed to improve our understanding of copepod feeding behavior by studying empirically free-swimming calanoids, which produce unsteady on/off feeding currents of different kinds, and then compare the newly gained results with our knowledge to date about the steady feeding currents.

Broader Impact

The project will support the research efforts of a young, physically oriented scientist in a well-integrated interdisciplinary study with three accomplished senior biological ocean scientists. Our well-visited web sites on zooplankton ecology, marine and fresh-water, will serve to stimulate young persons to pursue the natural sciences. Data files and simulation results will also be uploaded onto our website of ( for public access. We will disseminate our results in the scientific literature. Two undergraduate students will be working at Skidaway with G. -A. Paffenhofer and will interact with the team of PIs during the course of the project.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Ocean Sciences (OCE)
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Phillip R. Taylor
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University of Wisconsin Milwaukee
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