Aerial Interactions



The role of biomechanics and flight performance in

aerial interactions

Many of the most ecologically important natural flight behaviors involve interactions between two or more flying animals.  Predator-prey, competitive, and courtship interactions can be critical to an animal’s fitness, yet the relative importance of flight performance versus other sensory signals or behavioral strategy has not been explored. 

We have studied the role of flight performance in aggressive aerial jousting matches between male orchid bees in Panama.  Our results suggest that behavioral strategy and stability during aerial collisions may be more important in determining success than traditional measures of flight performance such as velocity or acceleration. 

At the Concord Field Station, we are studying the role of flight biomechanics during aerial predation in dragonflies.  We perform controlled predation trials by releasing fruit flies, mosquitoes or midges in front of perched dragonflies in an artificial outdoor dragonfly habitat.  We are analyzing high-speed footage of these encounters to understand the role of flight biomechanics in determining capture success, as well as how behavioral strategy and capture success vary between individuals, species, sexes, and with age.  In addition, we are pursuing several projects in which use predation success as a measure of flight performance, which allows us to assess the effects of various manipulations in wing and body morphology (such as artificial wing damage) on performance in an ecologically relevant context.