Phytoplankton are the foundation of aquatic food webs. Through photosynthesis, phytoplankton draw down
at magnitudes equivalent to forests and other terrestrial plants and convert it to organic material that is then consumed by other planktonic organisms in higher trophic levels. Mechanisms that affect local concentrations and velocities are of primary significance to many encounter-based processes in the plankton, including prey–predator interactions, fertilization and aggregate formation. We report results from simulations of sinking phytoplankton, considered as elongated spheroids, in homogenous isotropic turbulence to answer the question of whether trajectories and velocities of sinking phytoplankton are altered by turbulence. We show in particular that settling spheroids with physical characteristics similar to those of diatoms weakly cluster and preferentially sample regions of downwelling flow, corresponding to an increase of the mean settling speed with respect to the mean settling speed in quiescent fluid. We explain how different parameters can affect the settling speed and what underlying mechanisms might be involved. Interestingly, we observe that the increase in the aspect ratio of the prolate spheroids can affect the clustering and the average settling speed of particles by two mechanisms: first is the effect of aspect ratio on the rotation rate of the particles, which saturates faster than the second mechanism of increasing drag anisotropy.