ultiscale flow between the branches and polyps of gorgonians

Christina L. Hamlet, W. Christopher Strickland, Nicholas Battista, Laura A. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Gorgonians, including sea fans, are soft corals well known for their elaborate branching structure and how they sway in the ocean. This branching structure can modify environmental flows to be beneficial for feeding in a particular range of velocities and, presumably, for a particular size of prey. As water moves through the elaborate branches, it is slowed, and recirculation zones can form downstream of the colony. At the smaller scale, individual polyps that emerge from the branches expand their tentacles, further slowing the flow. At the smallest scale, the tentacles are covered in tiny pinnules where exchange occurs. In this paper, we quantified the gap to diameter ratios for various gorgonians at the scale of the branches, the polyp tentacles and the pinnules. We then used computational fluid dynamics to determine the flow patterns at all three levels of branching. We quantified the leakiness between the branches, tentacles and pinnules over the biologically relevant range of Reynolds numbers and gap-to-diameter ratios, and found that the branches and tentacles can act as either leaky rakes or solid plates depending upon these dimensionless parameters. The pinnules, in contrast, mostly impede the flow. Using an agent-based modeling framework, we quantified plankton capture as a function of the gap-to-diameter ratio of the branches and the Reynolds number. We found that the capture rate depends critically on both morphology and Reynolds number. The results of the study have implications for how gorgonians modify ambient flows for efficient feeding and exchange.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberjeb244520
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 2023


  • Computational fluid dynamics
  • Feeding flows
  • Gorgonian
  • Sea fans

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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