Journal of Fluid Mechanics

The growth of bioconvection patterns in a uniform suspension of gyrotactic micro-organisms

T. J.  Pedley a1, N. A.  Hill a1 and J. O.  Kessler a2
a1 Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge, Silver Street, Cambridge CB3 9EW, UK
a2 Department of Physics, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA

Article author query
pedley tj   [Google Scholar] 
hill na   [Google Scholar] 
kessler jo   [Google Scholar] 


‘Bioconvection’ is the name given to pattern-forming convective motions set up in suspensions of swimming micro-organisms. ‘Gyrotaxis’ describes the way the swimming is guided through a balance between the physical torques generated by viscous drag and by gravity operating on an asymmetric distribution of mass within the organism. When the organisms are heavier towards the rear, gyrotaxis turns them so that they swim towards regions of most rapid downflow. The presence of gyrotaxis means that bioconvective instability can develop from an initially uniform suspension, without an unstable density stratification. In this paper a continuum model for suspensions of gyrotactic micro-organisms is proposed and discussed; in particular, account is taken of the fact that the organisms of interest are non-spherical, so that their orientation is influenced by the strain rate in the ambient flow as well as the vorticity. This model is used to analyse the linear instability of a uniform suspension. It is shown that the suspension is unstable if the disturbance wavenumber is less than a critical value which, together with the wavenumber of the most rapidly growing disturbance, is calculated explicitly. The subsequent convection pattern is predicted to be three-dimensional (i.e. with variation in the vertical as well as the horizontal direction) if the cells are sufficiently elongated. Numerical results are given for suspensions of a particular algal species (Chlamydomonas nivalis); the predicted wavelength of the most rapidly growing disturbance is 5–6 times larger than the wavelength of steady-state patterns observed in experiments. The main reasons for the difference are probably that the analysis describes the onset of convection, not the final, nonlinear steady state, and that the experimental fluid layer has finite depth.

(Published Online April 21 2006)
(Received October 6 1987)
(Revised April 6 1988)