Bulletin of Mathematical Biology

, Volume 80, Issue 1, pp 215–227 | Cite as

Directional Hydrodynamic Sensing by Free-Swimming Organisms

Original Article


Many aquatic organisms detect the presence of moving objects in their environment, such as predators, by sensing the hydrodynamic disturbances the movements produce. The resultant water flow is readily detectable by stationary organisms, but free-swimming organisms are carried with the surrounding water and may not detect the bulk surrounding flow, which limits the available information about the source. We have developed a theory that clarifies what information is contained in disturbances generated by an attacking predator that is available to a free-swimming organism and might be extracted from local flow deformations alone. The theory shows that, depending on how well the deformations can be measured in space and time, an organism can reduce the range of possible locations, speeds, sizes, and arrival times of the predator. We apply the theory to planktonic copepods that have mechanosensory hairs along a pair of antennules. The study reveals the presence of “blind spots,” potential ambiguities in resolving from which of two sides a predator attacks, and whether it generates a bow wave or suction. Our findings lead to specific testable hypotheses concerning optimal escape strategies, which are helpful for interpreting the behavior of evasive prey and designing free-swimming robots with sensory capabilities.


Mechanosensing Copepod Predator-prey interactions Inverse problem 



We thank Drs. Petra Lenz and Ann Castelfranco for valuable discussions and critical reading of an earlier version of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Society for Mathematical Biology 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of MathematicsUniversity of Hawaii at ManoaHonoluluUSA
  2. 2.Békésy Laboratory of Neurobiology, Pacific Biosciences Research CenterUniversity of Hawaii at ManoaHonoluluUSA

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