Distributed propulsion enables fast and efficient swimming modes in physonect siphonophores
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Many fishes employ distinct swimming modes for routine swimming and predator escape. These steady and escape swimming modes are characterized by dramatically differing body kinematics that lead to context-adaptive differences in swimming performance. Physonect siphonophores, such as Nanomia bijuga, are colonial cnidarians that produce multiple jets for propulsion using swimming subunits called nectophores. Physonect siphonophores employ distinct routine and steady escape behaviors but–in contrast to fishes–do so using a decentralized propulsion system that allows them to alter the timing of thrust production, producing thrust either synchronously (simultaneously) for escape swimming or asynchronously (in sequence) for routine swimming. The swimming performance of these two swimming modes has not been investigated in siphonophores. In this study, we compare the performances of asynchronous and synchronous swimming in N. bijuga over a range of colony lengths (i.e., numbers of nectophores) by combining experimentally derived swimming parameters with a mechanistic swimming model. We show that synchronous swimming produces higher mean swimming speeds and greater accelerations at the expense of higher costs of transport. High speeds and accelerations during synchronous swimming aid in escaping predators, whereas low energy consumption during asynchronous swimming may benefit N. bijuga during vertical migrations over hundreds of meters depth. Our results also suggest that when designing underwater vehicles with multiple propulsors, varying the timing of thrust production could provide distinct modes directed toward speed, efficiency, or acceleration.
Du Clos, K., Gemmell, B., Colin, S., Costello, J., Dabiri, J., & Sutherland, K. (2022). Distributed propulsion enables fast and efficient swimming modes in physonect siphonophores. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 119 (49) https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2202494119