Interactions between the mat-forming alga Didymosphenia geminata and its hydrodynamic environment

Scott T. Larned, Aaron I. Packman, David R. Plew, Kay Vopel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Benthic autotrophs in oligotrophic rivers must adapt to and modify their hydrodynamic environment to balance the conflicting requirements of minimal drag (to minimize detachment risks) and maximal exposure to turbulent flow (to maximize nutrient acquisition). We explored flow–organism interactions using the benthic, freshwater alga Didymosphenia geminata. D. geminata forms large mats in swift, oligotrophic alluvial rivers. The physical properties that allow D. geminata to resist detachment and proliferate under these harsh conditions are unknown. We transplanted cobbles with attached D. geminata mats from a riverbed to a flume and used velocimetry and microelectrode profiling to measure hydrodynamic and transport conditions above and within the mats over a wide range of flows. We then removed the mats from the cobbles and repeated the velocimetry measurements. Experiment results indicated that D. geminata mats reduce form-induced stresses and near-bed turbulent velocity fluctuations, which may reduce the risk of detachment. D. geminata mats also increase turbulent shear stress just above mat surfaces, which may enhance water column–mat solute exchange. High friction associated with flow at mat surfaces leads to very low velocities and predominantly diffusive transport within mats, which may in turn favor the retention of solutes derived from organic matter within and below mats. Enhanced mass transfer at mat surfaces and effective solute retention in mat matrices suggest a mechanism by which D. geminata cells acquire nutrients from different sources: advection-dominated transport of water-column nutrients to cells at mat surfaces, and diffusion-dominated transport from decomposing organic matter within mats, with minimal advective losses.
Original languageEnglish
JournalLimnology and Oceanography: Fluids and Environments
StatePublished - Feb 2011


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