Summary

Aerodynamic theory predicts that flight for fixed-wing aircraft requires more energy at low and high speeds compared with intermediate speeds, and this theory has often been extended to predict speed-dependent metabolic rates and optimal flight speeds for flying animals. However, the theoretical U-shaped flight power curve has not been robustly tested for Chiroptera, the only mammals capable of flapping flight. We examined the metabolic rate of seven Seba's short-tailed fruit bats (Carollia perspicillata) during unrestrained flight in a wind tunnel at air speeds from 1 to 7 m s-1. Following intra-peritoneal administration of 13C-labeled Na-bicarbonate, we measured the enrichment in 13C of exhaled breath before and after flight. We converted fractional turnover of 13C into metabolic rate and power, based on the assumption that bats oxidized glycogen during short flights. Power requirements of flight varied with air speed in a U-shaped manner in five out of seven individuals, whereas energy turnover was not related to air speed in two individuals. Power requirements of flight were close to values predicted by Pennycuick's aerodynamic model for minimum power speed, but differed for maximum range speed. The results of our experiment support the theoretical expectation of a U-shaped power curve for flight metabolism in a bat.

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