Turbulence-driven instabilities limit insect flight performance
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CitationCombes, S. A., and R. Dudley. 2009. “Turbulence-Driven Instabilities Limit Insect Flight Performance.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106 (22) (May 20): 9105–9108. doi:10.1073/pnas.0902186106.
AbstractEnvironmental turbulence is ubiquitous in natural habitats, but its effect on flying animals remains unknown because most flight studies are performed in still air or artificially smooth flow. Here we show that variability in external airflow limits maximum flight speed in wild orchid bees by causing severe instabilities. Bees flying in front of an outdoor, turbulent air jet become increasingly unstable about their roll axis as airspeed and flow variability increase. Bees extend their hindlegs ventrally at higher speeds, improving roll stability but also increasing body drag and associated power requirements by 30%. Despite the energetic cost, we observed this stability-enhancing behavior in 10 euglossine species from 3 different genera, spanning an order of magnitude in body size. A field experiment in which we altered the level of turbulence demonstrates that flight instability and maximum flight speed are directly related to flow variability. The effect of environmental turbulence on flight stability is thus an important and previously unrecognized determinant of flight performance.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:25283811
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