Wing morphology, flight type and migration distance predict accumulated fuel load in birds
Journal of Experimental Biology
Birds often accumulate large fat and protein reserves to fuel long-distance flights. While it is well known that species that fly the longest accumulate the largest amounts of fuel, considerable cross-species variation in fuel load is seen after controlling for overall migration distance. It remains unclear whether this variation can be explained by aerodynamic attributes of different species, despite obvious ecological and conservation implications. Here, we collected data on wing morphology,
... light type, migration distance and fuel load from 213 European bird species and explored three questions: (1) does maximum fuel load relate to migration distance across species?; (2) does wing morphology, as described by wing aspect ratio and wing loading, influence maximum fuel load?; and (3) does flight type influence maximum fuel load? Our results indicate that maximum fuel load increases with migration across species, but residual variance is high. The latter variance is explained by aspect ratio and flight type, while wing loading and body mass explain little variance. Birds with slender wings accumulate less fuel than species with low wing aspect ratio when covering a similar migration distance. Continuously flapping species accumulate the largest amounts of fuel, followed by flapping and soaring species and flapping and gliding species, while the smallest fuel loads were observed in birds with passerine-type flight. These results highlight complex eco-evolutionary adaptations to migratory behaviour, pointing toward the importance of energy minimisation.