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End the duopoly

Scientists shed new light on how seabirds cruise through air and water

Puffins, a member of the Alcidae family. Credit: Daniel Zatz (CC BY-NC 2.0 – creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/) New insight on how four species of seabirds have developed the ability to cruise through both air and water has been published today in the open-access journal eLife .

The study reveals that these birds , from the Alcidae family which includes puffins, murres and their relatives, produce efficient propulsive wakes while flying and swimming. This means that the animals likely spend relatively low amounts of metabolic energy when creating the force they need to move in both air and water. The findings suggest that alcids have been optimised for movement in very different environments through the course of their evolution.

“Birds that use their wings for ‘flight’ in air and water are expected to fly poorly in both environments compared to those that stick to either air or water only,” explains first author Anthony Lapsansky, a Ph.D. candidate at the Field Research Station at Fort Missoula, Division of Biological Sciences, University of Montana, US. “In other words, these jacks-of-all-trades should be the masters of none. Interestingly, however, alcids seem to contradict this notion of a trade-off between aerial and aquatic flight performance, and we wanted […]

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