A series of experiments is described in which two brown long-eared bats Plecotus auritus Linnaeus (Chiroptera: Vespertilionidae) were flown in a 1mx1mx4.5m flight enclosure at a range of body masses (n=9 experiments for a female bat, and n = 11 for a male bat). The highest three of these masses incorporated artificial loads. Stroboscopic stereophotogrammetry was used to make three-dimensional reconstructions (n=124) of the bats' flight paths. Over the entire range of experiments, wing loading was increased by 44% for the female and 46% for the male bat. Effects arising from captivity were controlled for: experiments at certain wing loadings were repeated after a period in captivity and the response to load was found to be unaltered. Flight speed fell with total mass M or with wing loading, varying as M−0.49 in the female and M−0.42 in the male bat. Wingbeat frequency increased with total mass or wing loading, varying as M0.61 in the female and M0.44in the male bat. Hence frequency, but not speed, changed with mass in the direction predicted by aerodynamic theory. These results were used in a mathematical model to predict wingbeat amplitude, flight power and cost of transport. The model was also used to estimate the optimal flight speeds Vmr and Vmp. The model predicted that amplitude increases with load. Measurements of wingbeat amplitude did not differ significantly from the predicted values. The observed flight speed was below the predicted minimum power speed Vmp (which increases with load), and diverged further from this with progressive loading. The increase in cost of flight calculated by the model over the range of wing loadings was approximately double that which it would have been had the bats adopted the optimal approach predicted by the model. The limitations inherent in the theoretical model, and the possible constraints acting on the animals, are discussed.

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