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Wing-skeleton morphometrics and flight in birds

Project Description

The central adaptation of birds is flight and it is the dominant selection pressure driving their morphology. Wing morphology has evolved in response to flight behaviour, which is influenced by a species’ ecology, and the external wing-morphology of extant birds is reflected by their wing-skeleton and vice versa. For example, in a hummingbird, emphasis is on the primary feathers to facilitate hovering and consequently, the hand-wing is relatively lengthened. In soaring birds such as an albatross, the part of the forelimb that supports the secondary feathers is relatively long and conversely the hand-wing relatively short. There is also evidence showing that wing-kinematics is correlated with wing-skeletal anatomy. Therefore, by quantifying wing-skeleton shape, it should be possible to predict overall wing-shape, wing-kinematics and from these, flight behaviour.

The aim of the project will be to determine the relationships between the wing-skeleton morphology, wing-kinematics, and wing-shape of extant birds. This data may then be extrapolated to hypothesise the wing-shape and kinematics of fossil birds. The main techniques used will be landmark-based geometric morphometrics for quantifying wing-skeleton morphology and high-speed video for quantifying wing-kinematics.

Funding Notes

This project has a Band 1 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website. For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website. Informal enquiries may be made directly to the primary supervisor.


•Nudds RL, Dyke GJ, & Rayner JMV (2004) Forelimb proportions and the evolutionary radiation of neornithes. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. Ser. B-Biol. Sci. 271:S324-S327.
•Nudds RL, Dyke GJ, & Rayner JMV (2007) Avian brachial index and wing kinematics: putting movement back into bones. Journal of Zoology 272(2):218-226.
•Rayner JMV (1988) Form and function in avian flight. Current Ornithology, ed Johnston RF (Plenum Press, New York), Vol 5, pp 1-66.
•Rayner JMV & Dyke GJ (2002) Origins and evolution of diversity in the avian wing. Vertebrate Biomechanics and Evolution, eds Bels V, Gasc JP, & Casinos A (Bios Scientific Publishers, Oxford), pp 297-317.

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