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The mechanics of wave-swept algae
Mark Denny, Brian Gaylord


Wave-swept marine algae must contend with the hydrodynamic forces imposed by extreme water velocities. Nonetheless, they seldom have a shape that appears streamlined and they are constructed of weak, compliant materials. How do they survive? The answer is complex, but a coherent story is beginning to emerge. The combined effect of frond shape and material properties ensures that algae are flexible. In small individuals, flexibility allows the plant to reorient and reconfigure in flow, thereby assuming a streamlined shape and reducing the applied hydrodynamic force. In large individuals, flexibility allows fronds to `go with the flow', a strategy that can at times allow the plant to avoid hydrodynamic forces but may at other times impose inertial loads. Our understanding of algal mechanics is such that we can begin to predict the survivorship of algae as a function of size, spatial distribution and wave climate.

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