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Ecology. 2010 Aug;91(8):2485-92.

Applications of particle image velocimetry for seed release studies.

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Department of Biology and IGDP in Ecology, 208 Mueller Laboratory, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA.


Nonrandom seed release is an important determinant of how far seeds disperse, but the mechanisms that promote wind-related seed release under varying atmospheric conditions are poorly understood. We explored the use of particle image velocimetry (PIV) to gain a better mechanistic understanding of seed release by visualizing the flow velocities and vorticity in a two-dimensional slice of air around inflorescences. Pilot data taken in a wind tunnel show gradients in air velocity at the top of Carduus nutans capitula that may contribute to lift generation. Additionally, von Kármán vortex streets (vortices of opposite spin that are shed from the wake of an object) were observed shedding from capitula, which cause lateral forces on capitula and increase turbulence downwind at other locations. Avenues for further research include using PIV to examine the mechanisms of seed release and dispersal in wind tunnels and in the field. We found PIV to be a promising method to further explore the mechanisms behind seed release in wind dispersed plants, and a technique rich with opportunities for collaborations between plant dispersal ecologists and fluid dynamics specialists.

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