McNair, J.N., and J.D. Newbold. 2012. Journal of Theoretical Biology 300:62–80.
Most ecological studies of particle transport in streams that focus on fine particulate organic matter or benthic invertebrates use the Exponential Settling Model (ESM) to characterize the longitudinal pattern of particle settling on the bed. The ESM predicts that if particles are released into a stream, the proportion that have not yet settled will decline exponentially with transport time or distance and will be independent of the release elevation above the bed. To date, no credible basis in fluid mechanics has been established for this model, nor has it been rigorously tested against more-mechanistic alternative models. One alternative is the Local Exchange Model (LEM), which is a stochastic advection-diffusion model that includes both longitudinal and vertical spatial dimensions and is based on classical fluid mechanics. The LEM predicts that particle settling will be non-exponential in the near field but will become exponential in the far field, providing a new theoretical justification for far-field exponential settling that is based on plausible fluid mechanics. We review properties of the ESM and LEM and compare these with available empirical evidence. Most evidence supports the prediction of both models that settling will be exponential in the far field but contradicts the ESM’s prediction that a single exponential distribution will hold for all transport times and distances.