Marine Biology

, Volume 160, Issue 4, pp 843–851 | Cite as

Size, not morphology, determines hydrodynamic performance of a kelp during peak flow

  • Thibaut de BettigniesEmail author
  • Thomas Wernberg
  • Paul S. Lavery
Original Paper


The morphology and shape of algae can affect their survival in wave-swept environments because of the hydrodynamic drag created by water flow. Studies of morphology and drag are typically conducted at relatively low water velocities, and the influence of algal morphology on drag, over the range of water velocities algae must cope with in their natural environment, remains unclear. Here, we tested the link between morphological variation and hydrodynamic drag for a dominant kelp with complex morphology (Ecklonia radiata), over a range of water velocities representative of conditions on wave-swept reefs. Our results indicated that kelps on subtidal reefs must withstand maximal orbital water velocities in excess of 2–3 m s−1. Our measurements of drag, resulting from flows ranging from 1 to 3 m s−1, revealed that shape- and width-related thallus and lamina characters were important to drag at low speed, but that total thallus area (or biomass) was the main determinant of drag at high flow. Drag coefficients converged at increasing speed suggesting that, at high flow, significant thallus reconfiguration (more streamlined shape) decoupled drag from morphology. This implies that, at peak velocities, only size (total area), not morphology, is important to drag and the probability of dislodgment.


Drag Force Water Velocity Hydrodynamic Force Wave Exposure Hydrodynamic Drag 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



TdB was funded through an ECU postgraduate award. Additional funding was obtained from the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (TdB). TW was funded by the Australian Research Council. We thank J. P. Escaňo Roepstorff, T. Minutoli Tegrimi, F. Vitelli, S. Luret and P. Bouvais for assistance in the field, D. Goodall and G. Maguire for comments on the early manuscript and editing, and D. Thomson for the calibration of the accelerometers.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thibaut de Bettignies
    • 1
    Email author
  • Thomas Wernberg
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Paul S. Lavery
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Marine Ecosystems ResearchEdith Cowan UniversityJoondalupAustralia
  2. 2.The UWA Ocean Institute, School of Plant BiologyUniversity of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia
  3. 3.Australian Institute of Marine ScienceCrawleyAustralia

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