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The roller coaster flight strategy of bar-headed geese conserves energy during Himalayan migrations

January 16, 2015

The physiological and biomechanical requirements of flight at high altitude have been the subject of much interest. Here, we uncover a steep relation between heart rate and wingbeat frequency (raised to the exponent 3.5) and estimated metabolic power and wingbeat frequency (exponent 7) of migratory bar-headed geese. Flight costs increase more rapidly than anticipated as air density declines, which overturns prevailing expectations that this species should maintain high-altitude flight when traversing the Himalayas. Instead, a "roller coaster" strategy, of tracking the underlying terrain and discarding large altitude gains only to recoup them later in the flight with occasional benefits from orographic lift, is shown to be energetically advantageous for flights over the Himalayas.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2015
Title The roller coaster flight strategy of bar-headed geese conserves energy during Himalayan migrations
DOI 10.1126/science.1258732
Authors C.M. Bishop, R.J. Spivey, L. A. Hawkes, N. Batbayar, B. Chua, P.B. Frappell, W.K. Milsom, T. Natsagdorj, S.H. Newman, G. R. Scott, John Y. Takekawa, Martin Wikelski, Patrick J. Butler
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Science
Series Number
Index ID 70141767
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center

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