New Publication in Royal Society Open Science

Hummingbird Heat Outdoors
Powers DR, Langland KM,Wethington SM, Powers SD, Graham CH, Tobalske BW. 2017 "Hovering in the heat: effects of environmental temperature on heat regulation in foraging hummingbirds." R. sci. 4: 171056.

New Publication in Proceedings of the Royal Society, B

Two Pycnos

Lane SJ, Shishido CM, Moran AL, Tobalske BW, Arango CP, Woods HA. 2017
"Upper limits to body size imposed by respiratory–structural trade-offs in Antarctic pycnogonids." Proc. R. Soc. B 284: 20171779.

New publication in Current Biology by "Team Pycno" on sea spider respiration

Sea spider

Team Pycno is creating some waves with a new article in Current Biology. Check it out!

 H. Arthur Woods, Steven J. Lane, Caitlin Shishido, Bret W. Tobalske, Claudia P. Arango, Amy L. Moran. "Respiratory gut peristalsis by sea spiders." Current Biology, 2017; 27 (13): R638 DOI:

For press coverage and related videos click on the following links:

New publication in Integrative & Comparative Biology: "Ontogeny of Flight Capacity and Pectoralis Function in a Precocial Ground Bird (Alectoris chukar)"

"Flight is the defining characteristic of birds, yet the mechanisms through which flight ability develops are only beginning to be understood. Wing-assisted incline running (WAIR) and controlled flapping descent (CFD) are behaviors that may offer significant adaptive benefits to developing birds. Recent research into these forms of locomotion has focused on species with precocial development, with a particularly rich data set from chukar partridge (Alectoris chukar). Here we briefly review the kinematics and aerodynamics of flight development in this species. We then present novel measurements of the development of pectoralis contractile behavior during the ontogenetic transition toward powered flight." Read the paper by Bret Tobalske, Brandon Jackson and Ken Dial.

EMG tracing

New paper in Ecology and Evolution: "Flight performance in the altricial zebra finch: Developmental effects and reproductive consequences"

"In birds, flight performance is an ideal metric to assess the fitness consequences of developmental stress. As fledglings, mastering takeoff is crucial to avoid bodily damage and escape predation. As adults, takeoff can contribute to mating and foraging success as well as escape and, thus, can affect both reproductive success and survival. We examined the effects of developmental stress on flight performance across life-history stages in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). Specifically, we examined the effects of oral administration of corticosterone (CORT, the dominant avian glucocorticoid) during development on ground-reaction forces and velocity during takeoff. Additionally, we tested for associations between flight performance and reproductive success in adult male zebra finches." Read more about flight performance in the altricial zebra finch.

Finches in flight

New Paper in JEB!

Wing posture has a greater effect on aerodynamic performance during emulated flapping than during emulated gliding. Extended wing morphology (i.e. emarginate primaries) may be more important during take-off and landing than during gliding. Read more in the new JEB article.

Bird wing

New paper: Evolution of avian flight: muscles and constraints on performance.

Read Bret's new paper in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, B.on the constraints of the avian musculoskeletal system on the evolution of flight.

Pictured: Wing-tip reversal upstroke in a pigeon (Columba livia) engaged in slow forward flight.

Pigeon in slow flight

New paper: Specialized primary feathers produce tonal sounds during flight in rock pigeons (Columba livia)

Read Robert and Bret's new paper in the Journal of Experimental Biology. In this image, synchronized audio and high-speed video recordings of take-off flights reveal that tonal components of wing sounds occur late in downstroke.

Synchronized wing beats

New Paper: Foraging at the edge of the world: low-altitude, high-speed manoeuvering in barn swallows.

Ever wonder how swallows do it? Fast, highly maneuverable flyers that seem to turn on a dime? Read about the kinematics of swallow foraging in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, B.

Swallow flight path

Here chick, chick, chick...

Hot off the press in the Royal Society Open Science

Read the latest paper involving research at the UM Flight Lab!

"Three-dimensional simulation for fast forward flight of a calliope hummingbird." Authors: Jialei Song, Bret W. Tobalske, Donald R. Powers, Tyson L. Hedrick, Haoxiang Luo.

 Pressure distribution on the body surface in Pascals: (a) isolated body simulation, (b) body with wings at mid-downstroke and (c) body with wings at mid-upstroke.

Pressure distribution on the body surface in Pascals: (a) isolated body simulation, (b) body with wings at mid-downstroke and (c) body with wings at mid-upstroke.

Dr. Natalie Wright, UM postdoctoral fellow, has a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Natalie A. Wright, David W. Steadman and Christopher C. Witt "show that when birds colonize islands, they undergo predictable changes in body shape. Small-island bird populations evolve smaller flight muscles and longer legs. These shifts in investment from wings to legs,although often subtle,are qualitatively similar to changes that have occurred in flightless bird lineages. Islands with fewer predator species were associated with more dramatic shifts toward flightlessness, implicating reduced predation pressure as the most likely cause of this trend. These predictable evolutionary changes likely exacerbate the vulnerability of flighted island birds to introduced predators and reduce the potential for small-island species to give rise to subsequent radiations."
Coverage of the article has appeared in National Geographic and on the UM webpage.

Bridging Bret's interests...

"Not only is he an expert on fast muscle movements, but he’s a guitarist and rock fan who used to work concert security at metal shows in the Eighties." How is this for a cool faculty expertise contribution?

Researchers from the Field Research Station Featured on Discovery Canada!

Dr. Bret Tobalske and Dr. Art Woods, along with graduate student Steven Lane, recently traveled to Antarctica with colleagues from the University of Hawaii to study polar giant sea spiders. Their work is featured in this Discovery Channel Canada clip. (Link doesn't work)

sea spider

Hummingbird Flight in Science News

"What Use is Half A Wing?" HHMI Biointeractive video

Ken Dial's work on the origin and evolution of flight is highlighted in this HHMI Biointeractive video. Ken Dial at computer

Interview with Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

Flight Lab video wins competition for best video on fluid dynamics at the meeting of the American Physical Society

"Turning on A Dime - Asymmetric Vortex Formation in Hummingbird Maneuvering Flight"

Hummingbirds are versatile natural flyers that can perform locomotion as insects, such as hovering, forward/backward flight, turning maneuver and more. The unsteady vortex dynamics is key to understand aerodynamic features of these motions. Here we present an integrated approach combining high-speed photogrammetry, wing/body surface tracking, and immersed boundary method based flow simulations to study the three-dimensional vortex dynamics of a freely maneuvering hummingbird. The simulation results of the hummingbird performing pure yaw turn show asymmetric wake structures between the inner and outer wings. Dual-loop vortex structures have been observed in the near wake of the outer wing during downstroke, and of the inner wing during upstroke. The interactions between the wings and these complex vortex structures have implied both aerodynamic and dynamic benefits of the flapping wings in hummingbird’s maneuvering flight. (This work is supported by NSF CBET-1313217 and AFOSR FA9550-12-1-0071)

Heat dissipation during hovering and forward flight in hummingbirds

hummingbird heat
Read media coverage and view additional videos related to the article at:

The Times (London)   

Highlighted as a “Science Shot” in Science Online published by AAAS. 


Team Pycno is Headed to Antarctica!

Check out the expedition web page for the latest updates! sea spider

Kinematics and aerodynamics of avian upstrokes during slow flight - a new article in the Journal of Experimental Biology

Slow flight is extremely energetically costly per unit time, yet highly important for takeoff and survival. Kristen Crandell and Bret Tobalske investigated the kinematics and aerodynamics of upstrokes during slow flight. Check out their new paper (and the image that made the cover of the Journal of Experimental Biology)!

JEB cover

Preparing for Antarctica!

Bret Tobalske, Art Woods and Steven Lane are getting ready for their Antarctic expedition in October 2015. They will be diving under the Antarctic sea ice in pursuit of Pycnogonid sea spiders. This week they are at Harvard, hosted by the Museum of Comparative Zoology and the Center for Nanoscale Systems. They are receiving training on use of the microCT machine. These are micro Computer Tomography images of Pycnogonid sea spiders. The specimens are on loan from the Smithsonian Institution.

3D sea spiderSea spider color imageSea spider Close upSea spider attack viewSea spider wall thickness

Hot off the Presses: Great Transformations in Vertebrate Evolution, Edited by Kenneth P. Dial, Neil Shubin, and Elizabeth L. Brainerd

This new book features chapters by many of the world's most accomplished evolutionary biologists looking at some of the great transformations in the 500-million-year history of vertebrate life. Edited by our own Ken Dial as well as Neil Shubin and Elizabeth Brainerd in honor of a leader in the field of evolutionary biology and paleontology: Farish A. Jenkins Jr. Book cover Great Transformationsand available from the University of Chicago Press.

New Grant Funding from the National Science Foundation, Antarctic Program

Bret Tobalske emerging from frigid Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park in prepartion for future dives in Antarctica with researchers Amy Moran (University of Hawaii) and Art Woods (University of Montana). Their research will focus on Antarctic sea spiders (Pycnogonida), their body size, oxygen consumption, and vulnerability to climate change.

Bret Tobalske

Masters of the Air: Aerial Insectivory in Barn and Cliff Swallows

Funded by the National Geographic Society, Bret Tobalske, Douglas Warrick, Ty Hedrick, Andrew Biewener and Kristen Crandell are revealing the intricacies of high speed maneuvering in swallows. The goal of this research is to improve understanding of the ecomorphology of aerial insectivory. Their study is reported in the February issue of Science News.

Picture of high-speed ultrasonic anemometer

Robot Design Inspired by Birds

Swallows , hummingbirds and other species are serving as bioinspiration for engineers seeking to perfect miniature autonomous flying robots.  Broader impacts of research into bird flight is described in the February issue of Science News.

Blue Throated Hummingbird

And The Katma Award Goes To...

The Katma Award is awarded by the Cooper Ornithological Society and is intended to encourage the formulation of new ideas that could change the course of thinking about the biology of birds. The 2013 Katma Award goes to Kenneth P. Dial, Brandon E. Jackson, and Paolo Segre for their 2008 paper: ‘‘A fundamental avian wing-stroke provides a new perspective on the evolution of flight,’’ which appeared in the journal Nature 451:985–989.Ken Dial is awarded the 2013 Katma

Structural adaptations to diverse fighting styles in sexually selected weapons: A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences..

Weapon morphology in beetles. The shapes of sexually selected weapons differ widely among species, but the drivers of this diversity remain poorly understood. We found that rhinoceros beetle horns are both stronger and stiffer in response to species-typical fighting loads and that they perform more poorly under atypical fighting loads, which suggests weapons are structurally adapted to meet the functional demands of fighting. Our research establishes a critical link between weapon form and function, revealing one way male-male competition can drive the diversification of animal weapons.

Read more about "Structural Adaptations to Diverse Fighting styles in Sexually Selected Weapons."

Coverage of the article by Science.

Transition from wing to leg forces during landing in birds: A new paper in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Transitions to and from the air are critical for aerial locomotion and likely shaped the evolution of flying animals. Research on take-off demonstrates that legs generate greater body accelerations compared with wings, and thereby contribute more to initial flight velocity. Here, we explored coordination between wings and legs in two species with different wingbeat styles, and quantified force production of these modules during the final phase of landing. Check out the "Transition from Wing to Leg Forces during Landing in Birds" article.

From baby birds to feathered dinosaurs: incipient wings and the evolution of flight: A new paper from the Flight Lab.

Ashley M. Heers , Kenneth P. Dial , and Bret W. Tobalske published a paper in Paleobiology which uses the developing wings of a typical extant ground bird (Chukar Partridge) as possible analogues/homologues of historical wing forms to provide the first empirical evaluation of aerodynamic potential in flapping theropod ‘‘protowings.’’ Check out the paper, "From baby birds to feathered dinosaurs: incipient wings and the evolution of flight."

Mechanical limits to maximum weapon size in a giant rhinoceros beetle: A new paper from the Flight Lab's Erin L. McCullough.

The horns of giant rhinoceros beetles are a classic example of the elaborate morphologies that can result from sexual selection. However, males sometimes fight vigorously enough to break their horns, so mechanical limits may set an upper bound on horn size. Erin tested tested the mechanical limit hypothesis by measuring safety factors across the full range of horn sizes. Check out her paper, "Mechanical limits to maximum weapon size in a giant rhinoceros beetle", published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

From extant to extinct: locomotor ontogeny and the evolution of avian flight

Ashley Heers and Ken Dial have published a new article in Trends in Ecology and Evolution: "From extant to extinct: locomotor ontogeny and the evolution of avian flight."

New National Geographic Grant: "Ecomorphology and flight performance during high-speed coursing maneuvers in swallows."

Bret Tobalske, Director of the UM Flight Lab, has been awarded a grant from the National Geographic Society, Committee for Research and Exploration. This is in collaboration with Doug Warrick (Oregon State University), Andy Biewener  (Harvard University), and Ty Hedrick (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). The research will focus on the ecomorphology and flight performance during high-speed coursing maneuvers in swallows. Pictured: Doug Warrick.  bret conducting research

Kristen Crandell receives NASA Fellowship

Kristen Crandell was awarded a NASA Space Grant Fellowship for Spring, 2011, to facilitate her studies into the aerodynamics and mechanics of upstroke during bird flight. 

bird in flight with graphics showing upstroke

Contractile behavior of the avian pectoralis: a new paper from the flight lab

Contractile behavior of the avian pectoralis photoBrandon Jackson, Bret Tobalske, and Ken Dial published a paper in the Journal of Experimental Biology exploring the functional and evolutionary implications of the pectoralis. Check out "The broad range of contractile behavior of the avian pectoralis: functional and evolutionary implications" article.

BBC reports our findings

BBC logoThe BBC reports our findings on wing-assisted inclined running (WAIR.) Check out the "Flap-running in birds is key to flight evolution" article.