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1.  Estimation of Unsteady Aerodynamics in the Wake of a Freely Flying European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e80086.
Wing flapping is one of the most widespread propulsion methods found in nature; however, the current understanding of the aerodynamics in bird wakes is incomplete. The role of the unsteady motion in the flow and its contribution to the aerodynamics is still an open question. In the current study, the wake of a freely flying European starling has been investigated using long-duration high-speed Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV) in the near wake. Kinematic analysis of the wings and body of the bird has been performed using additional high-speed cameras that recorded the bird movement simultaneously with the PIV measurements. The wake evolution of four complete wingbeats has been characterized through reconstruction of the time-resolved data, and the aerodynamics in the wake have been analyzed in terms of the streamwise forces acting on the bird. The profile drag from classical aerodynamics was found to be positive during most of the wingbeat cycle, yet kinematic images show that the bird does not decelerate. It is shown that unsteady aerodynamics are necessary to satisfy the drag/thrust balance by approximating the unsteady drag term. These findings may shed light on the flight efficiency of birds by providing a partial answer to how they minimize drag during flapping flight.
PMCID: PMC3838395  PMID: 24278243
2.  Weather Forecasting by Insects: Modified Sexual Behaviour in Response to Atmospheric Pressure Changes 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e75004.
Prevailing abiotic conditions may positively or negatively impact insects at both the individual and population levels. For example while moderate rainfall and wind velocity may provide conditions that favour development, as well as movement within and between habitats, high winds and heavy rains can significantly decrease life expectancy. There is some evidence that insects adjust their behaviours associated with flight, mating and foraging in response to changes in barometric pressure. We studied changes in different mating behaviours of three taxonomically unrelated insects, the curcurbit beetle, Diabrotica speciosa (Coleoptera), the true armyworm moth, Pseudaletia unipuncta (Lepidoptera) and the potato aphid, Macrosiphum euphorbiae (Hemiptera), when subjected to natural or experimentally manipulated changes in atmospheric pressure. In response to decreasing barometric pressure, male beetles exhibited decreased locomotory activity in a Y-tube olfactometer with female pheromone extracts. However, when placed in close proximity to females, they exhibited reduced courtship sequences and the precopulatory period. Under the same situations, females of the true armyworm and the potato aphid exhibited significantly reduced calling behaviour. Neither the movement of male beetles nor the calling of armyworm females differed between stable and increasing atmospheric pressure conditions. However, in the case of the armyworm there was a significant decrease in the incidence of mating under rising atmospheric conditions, suggesting an effect on male behaviour. When atmospheric pressure rose, very few M. euphorbiae oviparae called. This was similar to the situation observed under decreasing conditions, and consequently very little mating was observed in this species except under stable conditions. All species exhibited behavioural modifications, but there were interspecific differences related to size-related flight ability and the diel periodicity of mating activity. We postulate that the observed behavioral modifications, especially under decreasing barometric pressure would reduce the probability of injury or death under adverse weather conditions.
PMCID: PMC3788776  PMID: 24098362
3.  Lekking birds in a tropical forest forego sex for migration 
Biology Letters  2011;7(5):661-663.
Facultative, partially migratory animals provide a contemporary window into the evolution of migration, offering rare opportunities to examine the life-history trade-offs associated with migration. For the first time, to our knowledge, we describe the nature of these trade-offs, using a lek-breeding tropical bird, the white-ruffed manakin (Corapipo altera). Previous evidence indicated that weather drives post-breeding migration to lower elevations bringing condition-related benefits. Using elevation-sensitive stable isotope measurements and more than 1200 h of behavioural observations, we show that male manakins which migrate incur costs of diminished social status and matings with females the following breeding season. Because migratory tendency depends on inter-annual variation in weather, physical costs of displays and breeding prospects the following year, migratory decisions are subject to both natural and sexual selection, with the outcome of such decisions linked to changing climatic regimes.
PMCID: PMC3169044  PMID: 21471048
carry-over effects; evolution of migration; life-history trade-offs
4.  Early Life Events Carry Over to Influence Pre-Migratory Condition in a Free-Living Songbird 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(12):e28838.
Conditions experienced during development can have long-term consequences for individual success. In migratory songbirds, the proximate mechanisms linking early life events and survival are not well understood because tracking individuals across stages of the annual cycle can be extremely challenging. In this paper, we first use a 13 year dataset to demonstrate a positive relationship between 1st year survival and nestling mass in migratory Savannah sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis). We also use a brood manipulation experiment to show that nestlings from smaller broods have higher mass in the nest relative to individuals from larger broods. Having established these relationships, we then use three years of field data involving multiple captures of individuals throughout the pre-migratory period and a multi-level path model to examine the hypothesis that conditions during development limit survival during migration by affecting an individual's ability to accumulate sufficient lean tissue and fat mass prior to migration. We found a positive relationship between fat mass during the pre-migratory period (Sept–Oct) and nestling mass and a negative indirect relationship between pre-migratory fat mass and fledging date. Our results provide the first evidence that conditions during development limit survival during migration through their effect on fat stores. These results are particularly important given recent evidence showing that body condition of songbirds at fledging is affected by climate change and anthropogenic changes to landscape structure.
PMCID: PMC3241683  PMID: 22194925
5.  Landscape Movements of Migratory Birds and Bats Reveal an Expanded Scale of Stopover 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(11):e27054.
Many species of birds and bats undertake seasonal migrations between breeding and over-wintering sites. En-route, migrants alternate periods of flight with time spent at stopover – the time and space where individuals rest and refuel for subsequent flights. We assessed the spatial scale of movements made by migrants during stopover by using an array of automated telemetry receivers with multiple antennae to track the daily location of individuals over a geographic area ∼20×40 km. We tracked the movements of 322 individuals of seven migratory vertebrate species (5 passerines, 1 owl and 1 bat) during spring and fall migratory stopover on and adjacent to a large lake peninsula. Our results show that many individuals leaving their capture site relocate within the same landscape at some point during stopover, moving as much as 30 km distant from their site of initial capture. We show that many apparent nocturnal departures from stopover sites are not a resumption of migration in the strictest sense, but are instead relocations that represent continued stopover at a broader spatial scale.
PMCID: PMC3207824  PMID: 22073253
6.  Storms drive altitudinal migration in a tropical bird 
Although migration is a widespread and taxonomically diverse behaviour, the ecological factors shaping migratory behaviour are poorly understood. Like other montane taxa, many birds migrate along elevational gradients in the tropics. Forty years ago, Alexander Skutch postulated that severe storms could drive birds to migrate downhill. Here, we articulate a novel mechanism that could link storms to mortality risks via reductions in foraging time and provide, to our knowledge, the first tests of this hypothesis in the White-ruffed Manakin (Corapipo altera), a small partially migratory frugivore breeding on the Atlantic slope of Costa Rica. As predicted, variation in rainfall was associated with plasma corticosterone levels, fat stores, plasma metabolites and haematocrit. By collecting data at high and low elevation sites simultaneously, we also found that high-elevation residents were more adversely affected by storms than low elevation migrants. These results, together with striking temporal capture patterns of altitudinal migrants relative to storms, provide, to our knowledge, the first evidence that weather-related risks incurred by species requiring high food intake rates can explain altitudinal migrations of tropical animals. These findings resolve conflicting evidence for and against food limitation being important in the evolution of this behaviour, and highlight how endogenous and exogenous processes influence life-history trade-offs made by individuals in the wild. Because seasonal storms are a defining characteristic of most tropical ecosystems and rainfall patterns will probably change in ensuing decades, these results have important implications for understanding the ecology, evolution and conservation of tropical animals.
PMCID: PMC2894928  PMID: 20375047
allostasis; climate change; foraging; metabolism; partial migration; tropical forest
7.  Metabolic profile of long-distance migratory flight and stopover in a shorebird 
Migrating birds often complete long non-stop flights during which body energy stores exclusively support energetic demands. The metabolic correlates of such long-distance travel in free-living migrants are as yet poorly studied. Bar-tailed godwits, Limosa lapponica taymyrensis, undertake a 4500 km flight to their single spring stopover site and thus provide an excellent model in which to determine the energy fuels associated with endurance travel. To this end, we evaluated plasma concentrations of six key metabolites in arriving godwits caught immediately upon landing near their stopover site. Initial metabolite levels were compared with levels after 5 h of inactive rest to determine how flight per se affects energy metabolism. Birds refuelling on the stopover site were also examined. Arriving godwits displayed elevated plasma free fatty acids, glycerol and butyrate, confirming the importance of lipid fuel in the support of extended migratory activity. Furthermore, elevated plasma triglycerides in these birds suggest that fatty acid provisioning is facilitated through hepatic synthesis and release of neutral lipids, as previously hypothesized for small migrants with high mass-specific metabolic rates. Finally, elevations in plasma uric acid suggest that protein breakdown contributes to the support of long-distance movement, to possibly maintain citric acid cycle intermediates, gluconeogenesis and/or water balance.
PMCID: PMC1634973  PMID: 15705555
migration; plasma metabolites; energy fuel; flight; stopover

Results 1-7 (7)