Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Flapping baby birds offer clues to origin of flight

29.08.2014

How did the earliest birds take wing? Did they fall from trees and learn to flap their forelimbs to avoid crashing? Or did they run along the ground and pump their “arms” to get aloft?

The answer is buried 150 million years in the past, but a new University of California, Berkeley, study provides a new piece of evidence – birds have an innate ability to maneuver in midair, a talent that could have helped their ancestors learn to fly rather than fall from a perch.


A nine day-old chukar chick righting itself using asymmetric wing flapping and rolling after being dropped upside down. Dennis Evangelista photos.

The study looked at how baby birds, in this case chukar partridges, pheasant-like game birds from Eurasia, react when they fall upside down.

The researchers, Dennis Evangelista, now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Robert Dudley, UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology, found that even ungainly, day-old baby birds successfully use their flapping wings to right themselves when they fall from a nest, a skill that improves with age until they become coordinated and graceful flyers.

“From day one, post-hatching, 25 percent of these birds can basically roll in midair and land on their feet when you drop them,” said Dudley, who also is affiliated with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Balboa, Panama. “This suggests that even rudimentary wings can serve a very useful aerodynamic purpose.”

Flapping and rolling

The nestlings right themselves by pumping their wings asymmetrically to flip or roll. By nine days after hatching, 100 percent of the birds in the study had developed coordinated or symmetric flapping, plus body pitch control to right themselves.

“These abilities develop very quickly after hatching, and occur before other previously described uses of the wings, such as for weight support during wing-assisted incline running,” said Evangelista, who emphasized that no chukar chicks were injured in the process. “The results highlight the importance of maneuvering and control in development and evolution of flight in birds.”

The researchers’ study appeared Aug. 27 in the online journal Biology Letters, published by the Royal Society.

Dudley has argued for a decade that midair maneuverability preceded the development of flapping flight and allowed the ancestors of today’s birds to effectively use their forelimbs as rudimentary wings. The new study shows that aerial righting using uncoordinated, asymmetric wing flapping is a very early development.

Righting behavior probably evolved because “nobody wants to be upside down, and it’s particularly dangerous if you’re falling in midair,” Dudley said. “But once animals without wings have this innate aerial righting behavior, when wings came along it became easier, quicker and more efficient.”

Dudley noted that some scientists hypothesize that true powered flight originated in the theropod dinosaurs, the ancestors to birds, when they used symmetric wing flapping while running up an incline, a behavior known as wing-assisted incline running, or WAIR. WAIR proponents argue that the wings assist running by providing lift, like the spoiler on a race car, and that the ability to steer or maneuver is absent early in evolution.

Falling, gliding and flying

Such activity has never been regularly observed in nature, however, and Dudley favors the scenario that flight developed in tree-dwelling animals falling and eventually evolving the ability to glide and fly. He has documented many ways that animals in the wild, from lizards and lemurs to ants, use various parts of their bodies to avoid hard landings on the ground. Practically every animal that has been tested is able to turn upright, and a great many, even ones that do not look like fliers, have some ability to steer or maneuver in the air.

Contrary to WAIR, maneuvering is very important at all stages of flight evolution and must have been present early, Evangelista said. Seeing it develop first in very young chicks indirectly supports this idea.

“Symmetric flapping while running is certainly one possible context in which rudimentary wings could have been used, but it kicks in rather late in development relative to asymmetric flapping,” Dudley added. “This experiment illustrates that there is a much broader range of aerodynamic capacity available for animals with these tiny, tiny wings than has been previously realized.”

The researchers also tested the young chicks to see if they flapped their wings while running up an incline. None did.

Three former UC Berkeley undergraduates – Sharlene Cam, Tony Huynh and Igor Krivitskiy – worked with Evangelista and Dudley through the Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (URAP) and are coauthors on the Biology Letters paper. Evangelista was supported by a National Science Foundation Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT #DGE-0903711) grant and by grants from the Berkeley Sigma Xi chapter and the national Sigma Xi.

RELATED INFORMATION

Robert Sanders | Eurek Alert!
Further information:
http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2014/08/28/flapping-baby-birds-give-clues-to-origin-of-flight/

Further reports about: Biology Flapping aerodynamic ancestors animals chicks previously rudimentary tiny

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht New Technique Maps Elusive Chemical Markers on Proteins
03.07.2015 | Salk Institute for Biological Studies

nachricht New approach to targeted cancer therapy
03.07.2015 | CECAD - Cluster of Excellence at the University of Cologne

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Viaducts with wind turbines, the new renewable energy source

Wind turbines could be installed under some of the biggest bridges on the road network to produce electricity. So it is confirmed by calculations carried out by a European researchers team, that have taken a viaduct in the Canary Islands as a reference. This concept could be applied in heavily built-up territories or natural areas with new constructions limitations.

The Juncal Viaduct, in Gran Canaria, has served as a reference for Spanish and British researchers to verify that the wind blowing between the pillars on this...

Im Focus: X-rays and electrons join forces to map catalytic reactions in real-time

New technique combines electron microscopy and synchrotron X-rays to track chemical reactions under real operating conditions

A new technique pioneered at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory reveals atomic-scale changes during catalytic reactions in real...

Im Focus: Iron: A biological element?

Think of an object made of iron: An I-beam, a car frame, a nail. Now imagine that half of the iron in that object owes its existence to bacteria living two and a half billion years ago.

Think of an object made of iron: An I-beam, a car frame, a nail. Now imagine that half of the iron in that object owes its existence to bacteria living two and...

Im Focus: Thousands of Droplets for Diagnostics

Researchers develop new method enabling DNA molecules to be counted in just 30 minutes

A team of scientists including PhD student Friedrich Schuler from the Laboratory of MEMS Applications at the Department of Microsystems Engineering (IMTEK) of...

Im Focus: Bionic eye clinical trial results show long-term safety, efficacy vision-restoring implant

Patients using Argus II experienced significant improvement in visual function and quality of life

The three-year clinical trial results of the retinal implant popularly known as the "bionic eye," have proven the long-term efficacy, safety and reliability of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

World Conference on Regenerative Medicine in Leipzig: Last chance to submit abstracts until 2 July

25.06.2015 | Event News

World Conference on Regenerative Medicine: Abstract Submission has been extended to 24 June

16.06.2015 | Event News

MUSE hosting Europe’s largest science communication conference

11.06.2015 | Event News

 
Latest News

Siemens receives order for offshore wind power plant in Great Britain

03.07.2015 | Press release

'Déjà vu all over again:' Research shows 'mulch fungus' causes turfgrass disease

03.07.2015 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Discovery points to a new path toward a universal flu vaccine

03.07.2015 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>