Although organisms obey the same physical laws as inanimate objects the evolutionary implications of these laws are often neglected. Physical factors influence the fitness value of traits and play an important role in the course of evolution. These are the areas of investigation that interest us.
Not long ago, we learned for the first time that dandelion seeds fly thanks to a stable separated vortex ring that sits behind their bristly pappus. Building on that work, researchers have now published a mathematical analysis of flow around a simplified dandelion pappus. Despite their simplifications, the model captures the flow observed in the previous experiments (bottom image: experiments on left; model on right).
The model also allowed researchers to test various features – like the number of filaments in the pappus – and see how they affected the flow. Interestingly, they found that dandelion flight was most stable with about 100 filaments, which is right around the number of a typical pappus! (Image credits: dandelion - Pixabay, figure - P. Ledda et al.; research credit: P. Ledda et al.; via APS Physics; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh and Marc A.)