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Recent advances in understanding the capture of moving suspended particles in aquatic ecosystems have opened up new possibilities for predicting rates of suspension feeding, larval settlement, seagrass pollination and sediment removal. Drawing on results from both highly-resolved computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations and existing experimental data, we quantify the controlling influence of flow velocity, particle size and collector size on rates of contact between suspended particles and biological collectors over the parameter space characterising a diverse range of aquatic ecosystems. As distinct from assumptions in previous modeling studies, the functional relationships describing capture are highly variable. Contact rates can vary in opposing directions in response to changes in collector size, an organism's size, the size of particles being intercepted (related to diet in the case of suspension feeders), and the flow strength. Contact rates shift from decreasing to increasing with collector diameter when particles become relatively large and there is vortex shedding in the collector wake. And in some ranges of the ecologically relevant parameter space, contact rates do not increase strongly with velocity or particle size. The understanding of these complex dependencies allows us to reformulate some hypotheses of selection pressure on the physiology and ecology of aquatic organisms. We discuss the benefits and limitations of CFD tools in predicting rates of particle capture in aquatic ecosystems. Finally, across the complete parameter space relevant to real aquatic ecosystems, all quantitative estimates of particle capture from our model are provided here.
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