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Published September 1, 2015 | Supplemental Material + Published
Journal Article Open

Multi-jet propulsion organized by clonal development in a colonial siphonophore


Physonect siphonophores are colonial cnidarians that are pervasive predators in many neritic and oceanic ecosystems. Physonects employ multiple, clonal medusan individuals, termed nectophores, to propel an aggregate colony. Here we show that developmental differences between clonal nectophores of the physonect Nanomia bijuga produce a division of labour in thrust and torque production that controls direction and magnitude of whole-colony swimming. Although smaller and less powerful, the position of young nectophores near the apex of the nectosome allows them to dominate torque production for turning, whereas older, larger and more powerful individuals near the base of the nectosome contribute predominantly to forward thrust production. The patterns we describe offer insight into the biomechanical success of an ecologically important and widespread colonial animal group, but, more broadly, provide basic physical understanding of a natural solution to multi-engine organization that may contribute to the expanding field of underwater-distributed propulsion vehicle design.

Additional Information

© 2015 Macmillan Publishers Limited. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in the credit line; if the material is not included under the Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission from the license holder to reproduce the material. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Received 24 April 2015. Accepted 21 July 2015. Published 01 September 2015. This work is a product of US National Science Foundation grant OCE-1155084 to K.R.S. and CBET-1511721 to J.H.C., OCE-1061182 to S.P.C. and OCE-1061628 to J.O.D. We thank Friday Harbor Laboratories of the U. Washington for facilities' support to conduct research and C.W. Dunn for discussion and comments on the manuscript. Author Contributions: J.H.C., S.P.C., B.J.G. and K.R.S. conceived the study and collected the image data; J.H.C. analysed the images, J.H.C. and J.O.D. developed the analysis, J.H.C. wrote the first draft and all authors contributed revisions. The authors declare no competing financial interests. Change history: 02 September 2015 - This paper was updated shortly after publication, following a technical error that resulted in the Supplementary Movie links connecting to the wrong files. The error has now been corrected in the HTML. The PDF has been correct from the time of publication.

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