Muscle designed for maximum short-term power output: quail flight muscle
Graham N Askew, Richard L Marsh
Journal of Experimental Biology
Take-off in birds at high speeds and steep angles of elevation requires a high burst power output. The mean power output of the pectoralis muscle of blue-breasted quail (Coturnix chinensis) during take-off is approximately 400 W kg(-1) muscle, as determined using two independent methods. This burst power output is much higher than has been measured in any other cyclically contracting muscle. The power output of muscle is determined by the interactions between the physiological properties of the
... muscle, the stimulation regime imposed by the central nervous system and the details of the strain cycle, which are determined by the reciprocal interaction between the muscle properties and the environmental load. The physiological adaptations that enable a high power output to be achieved are those that allow the muscle to develop high stresses whilst shortening rapidly. These characteristics include a high myofibrillar density, rapid twitch contraction kinetics and a high maximum intrinsic velocity of shortening. In addition, several features of the strain cycle increase the power output of the quail pectoralis muscle. First, the muscle operates at a mean length shorter than the plateau of the length/force relationship. Second, the muscle length trajectory is asymmetrical, with 70 % of the cycle spent shortening. The asymmetrical cycle is expected to increase the power output substantially. Third, subtle deviations in the velocity profile improve power output compared with a simple asymmetrical cycle with constant lengthening and shortening rates. The high burst power outputs found in the flight muscles of quail and similar birds are limited to very brief efforts before fatigue occurs. This strong but short flight performance is well-suited to the rapid-response anti-predation strategy of these birds that involves a short flight coupled with a subsequent sustained escape by running. These considerations serve as a reminder that the maximum power-producing capacities of muscles need to be considered in the context of the in vivo situation within which the muscles operate.