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No AccessPhysiology and Biomechanics

Flow Forces on Seaweeds: Field Evidence for Roles of Wave Impingement and Organism Inertia

Received 25 January 2008; accepted 27 July 2008.

Hydrodynamic forces dislodge and kill large numbers of organisms in intertidal and subtidal habitats along rocky shores. Although this feature of wave-driven water motion is well recognized, the mechanics of force imposition on compliant organisms is incompletely understood. Here we undertake a field examination of two processes that are thought to impose many of the more dangerous forces that act on flexible benthic seaweeds: impingement of breaking waves directly on emergent organisms, and inertial effects tied to the rapid deceleration of mass that occurs when a passively moving but attached organism abruptly reaches the extent of its range of motion. We focus on two common and important seaweed species: one intertidal kelp (Egregia menziesii) and one subtidal kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera). Results support the concept that wave impingement and inertial effects produce intermittent force transients whose magnitudes commonly exceed values readily attributable to drag. Peak force transients are elevated by as much as a factor of 3 relative to drag in both small and large individuals, consistent with smaller seaweeds being more susceptible to brief impingement forces, and larger seaweeds being more vulnerable to inertial forces. Because both wave impingement and inertial effects vary with the size of an organism, they may have the potential to influence the demographics of physical disturbance in an array of flexible species.