Drag, Drafting, and Mechanical Interactions in Canopies of the Red Alga Chondrus Crispus

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Dense algal canopies, which are common in the lower intertidal and shallow subtidal along rocky coastlines, can alter flow-induced forces in their vicinity. Alteration of flow-induced forces on algal thalli may ameliorate risk of dislodgement and will affect important physiological processes, such as rates of photosynthesis. This study found that the force experienced by a thallus of the red alga Chondrus crispus (Stackhouse) at a given flow speed within a flow tank depended upon (1) the density of the canopy surrounding the thallus (2) the position of the thallus within the canopy, and (3) the length of the stipe of the thallus relative to the height of the canopy. At all flow speeds, a solitary thallus experienced higher forces than a thallus with neighbors. A greater than 65% reduction in force occurred when the thallus drafted in the region of slower velocities that occurs in the wake region of even a single upstream neighbor, similar to the way racing bicyclists draft one behind the other. Mechanical interactions between thalli were important to forces experienced within canopies. A thallus on the upstream edge of a canopy experienced 6% less force than it did when solitary, because the canopy physically supported it. A thallus in the middle of a canopy experienced up to 83% less force than a solitary thallus, and forces decreased with increasing canopy density. Thus, a bushy morphology that increases drag on a solitary thallus may function to decrease forces experienced by that thallus when it is surrounded by a canopy, because that morphology increases physical support provided by neighbors.