Vorticity filaments are characteristic structures of two-dimensional turbulence. The formation, persistence and effect of vorticity filaments are examined using a high-resolution direct numerical simulation (DNS) of the merging of two positive Gaussian vortices pushed together by a weaker negative vortex. Many intense spiral vorticity filaments are created during this interaction and it is shown using a wavelet packet decomposition that, as has been suggested, the coherent vortex stabilizes the filaments. This result is confirmed by a linear stability analysis at the edge of the vortex and by a calculation of the straining induced by the spiral structure of the filament in the vortex core. The time-averaged energy spectra for simulations using hyper-viscosity and Newtonian viscosity have slopes of −3 and −4 respectively. Apart from a much higher effective Reynolds number (which accounts for the difference in energy spectra), the hyper-viscous simulation has the same dynamics as the Newtonian viscosity simulation. A wavelet packet decomposition of the hyper-viscous simulation reveals that after the merger the energy spectra of the filamentary and coherent parts of the vorticity field have slopes of −2 and −6 respectively. An asymptotic analysis and DNS for weak external strain shows that a circular filament at a distance
Rfrom the vortex centre always reduces the deformation of a Lamb's (Gaussian) vortex in the region r[ges ] R. In the region r< Rthe deformation is also reduced provided the filament is intense and is in the vortex core, otherwise the filament may slightly increase the deformation. The results presented here should be useful for modelling the coherent and incoherent parts of two-dimensional turbulent flows.