Optimizing natural transport systems

Many biological and man-made systems rely on transport systems for the distribution of material, for example matter and energy. Material transfer in these systems is determined by the flow rate and the concentration of material. While the most concentrated solutions offer the greatest potential in terms of material transfer, impedance typically increases with concentration, thus making them the most difficult to transport. We develop a general framework for describing systems for which impedance increases with concentration, and consider material flow in four different natural systems: blood flow in vertebrates, sugar transport in vascular plants and two modes of nectar drinking in birds and insects. The model provides a simple method for determining the optimum concentration in these systems. Comparing the model predictions with experimental data from more than 100 animal and plant species, we find that the simple model rationalizes the observed concentrations and impedances. The model provides a universal framework for studying flows impeded by concentration, and yields insight into optimization in engineered systems, such as traffic flow.

See paper:  Jensen, Kim, Holbrook and Bush (2013)