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The effect of surface topography on benthic boundary layer flow: implications for marine larval transport and settlement

Daniel GysbersMark A. LevensteinGabriel Juarez
Jan 2024
The effect of substrate topography on the settlement of coral larvae in wave-driven oscillatory flow is investigated using computational fluid dynamics coupled to a 2D agent-based simulation of individual larvae. Substrate topography modifies the boundary layer flow by generating vortices within roughness features that can be ejected into the bulk flow, directly influencing larval transport and settlement. In agreement with recent experimental findings, millimeter-scale ridged topographies were found to increase settlement compared to sub-mm feature heights. At this length scale, ridge spacing-to-height ratios of 10 to 20, spacings of more than 30 coral larval body lengths, resulted in the highest settlement rates. These optimal topographies produce a high averaged vertical velocity variance in the bulk flow, indicating that vertical larval movement to benthic surfaces is dominated by passive transport driven by recirculatory flow structures. Indeed, larval settlement was found to be positively correlated with mean vertical velocity variance, and settlement results with substrates comprising complex multiscale roughness were quantitatively similar to those with a simple rectangular model. Our findings reveal how substrates can be designed with surface features to promote larval settlement in natural flow conditions above shallow coral reefs independent of biological cues and substrate material composition.
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