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Published in: Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, Vol. 277, No. 1968, 2010.


Zooplankton feed in any of three ways: they generate a feeding current while hovering, cruise through the water or are ambush feeders. Each mode generates different hydrodynamic disturbances and hence exposes the grazers differently to mechanosensory predators. Ambush feeders sink slowly and therefore perform occasional upward repositioning jumps. We quantified the fluid disturbance generated by repositioning jumps in a millimetre-sized copepod (Re ∼ 40). The kick of the swimming legs generates a viscous vortex ring in the wake; another ring of similar intensity but opposite rotation is formed around the decelerating copepod. A simple analytical model, that of an impulsive point force, properly describes the observed flow field as a function of the momentum of the copepod, including the translation of the vortex and its spatial extension and temporal decay. We show that the time-averaged fluid signal and the consequent predation risk is much less for an ambush-feeding than a cruising or hovering copepod for small individuals, while the reverse is true for individuals larger than about 1 mm. This makes inefficient ambush feeding feasible in small copepods, and is consistent with the observation that ambush-feeding copepods in the ocean are all small, while larger species invariably use hovering or cruising feeding strategies.

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