Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Dinosaur wind tunnel test provides new insight into the evolution of bird flight

Date:
September 18, 2013
Source:
University of Southampton
Summary:
A study into the aerodynamic performance of feathered dinosaurs has provided new insight into the evolution of bird flight. In recent years, new fossil discoveries have changed our view of the early evolution of birds and, more critically, their powers of flight. We now know about a number of small-bodied dinosaurs that had feathers on their wings as well as on their legs and tails: completely unique in the fossil record.

Understanding the evolution of flight with a micro raptor in the wind tunnel at the University of Southampton.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Southampton

A study into the aerodynamic performance of feathered dinosaurs, by scientists from the University of Southampton, has provided new insight into the evolution of bird flight.

In recent years, new fossil discoveries have changed our view of the early evolution of birds and, more critically, their powers of flight. We now know about a number of small-bodied dinosaurs that had feathers on their wings as well as on their legs and tails: completely unique in the fossil record..

However, even in light of new fossil discoveries, there has been a huge debate about how these dinosaurs were able to fly.

Scientists from the University of Southampton hope to have ended this debate by examining the flight performance of one feathered dinosaur pivotal to this debate -- the early Cretaceous five-winged paravian Microraptor. The first theropod described with feathers on its arms, legs and tail (five potential lifting surfaces), Microraptor implies that forelimb-dominated bird flight passed through a four-wing ('tetrapteryx') phase and represents an important stage in the evolution of gliding and flapping.

The Southampton researchers performed a series of wind tunnel experiments and flight simulations on a full-scale, anatomically accurate model of Microraptor.

Results of the team's wind tunnel tests show that Microraptor would have been most stable gliding when generating large amounts of lift with its wings.. Flight simulations demonstrate that this behaviour had advantages since this high lift coefficient allows for slow glides, which can be achieved with less height loss. For gliding down from low elevations, such as trees, this slow, and aerodynamically less efficient flight was the gliding strategy that results in minimal height loss and longest glide distance.

Much debate, centred on the position and orientation of Microraptor's legs and wing shape turns out to be irrelevant -- tests show that changes in these variables make little difference to the dinosaur's flight.

Dr Gareth Dyke, Senior Lecturer in Vertebrate Palaeontology at the University of Southampton and co-author of the study, says: "Significant to the evolution of flight, we show that Microraptor did not require a sophisticated, 'modern' wing morphology to undertake effective glides, as the high-lift coefficient regime is less dependent upon detail of wing morphology."

"This is consistent with the fossil record, and also with the hypothesis that symmetric 'flight' feathers first evolved in dinosaurs for non-aerodynamic functions, later being adapted to form aerodynamically capable surfaces."

Dr Roeland de Kat, Research Fellow in the Aerodynamics and Flight Mechanics Research Group at the University of Southampton and co-author of the study, says: "What interests me is that aerodynamic efficiency is not the dominant factor in determining Microraptor's glide efficiency. However, it needs a combination of a high lift coefficient and aerodynamic efficiency to perform at its best."

The paper 'Aerodynamic performance of the feathered dinosaur Microraptor and the evolution of feathered flight' is published in the latest issue of Nature Communications.

Dr Dyke and fellow Southampton palaeontologists will showcase their ground-breaking research at the Celebrating Dinosaur Island: Jehol-Wealden International Conference on 21 and 22 September.

The Isle of Wight (Dinosaur Island) and China are key areas for Cretaceous fossils, especially dinosaurs. To celebrate this connection, Chinese and UK dinosaur palaeontologists will discuss their research at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton and visit key dinosaur sites on the Isle of Wight and network with tourism and business leaders to build connections for future palaentological research.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Southampton. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Gareth Dyke, Roeland de Kat, Colin Palmer, Jacques van der Kindere, Darren Naish and Bharathram Ganapathisubramani. Aerodynamic performance of the feathered dinosaur Microraptor and the evolution of feathered flight. Nature Communications, 2013 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms3489

Cite This Page:

University of Southampton. "Dinosaur wind tunnel test provides new insight into the evolution of bird flight." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 September 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130918090545.htm>.
University of Southampton. (2013, September 18). Dinosaur wind tunnel test provides new insight into the evolution of bird flight. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 16, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130918090545.htm
University of Southampton. "Dinosaur wind tunnel test provides new insight into the evolution of bird flight." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130918090545.htm (accessed September 16, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Researchers Explore Shipwrecks Off Calif. Coast

Researchers Explore Shipwrecks Off Calif. Coast

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) — Federal researchers are exploring more than a dozen underwater sites where they believe ships sank in the treacherous waters west of San Francisco in the decades following the Gold Rush. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Museum Traces Fragments of Star-Spangled Banner

Museum Traces Fragments of Star-Spangled Banner

AP (Sep. 12, 2014) — As the Star-Spangled Banner celebrates its bicentennial, Smithsonian curators are still uncovering fragments of the original flag that inspired Francis Scott Key's poem. (Sept. 12) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Spinosaurus Could Be First Semi-Aquatic Dinosaur

Spinosaurus Could Be First Semi-Aquatic Dinosaur

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) — New research has shown that the Spinosaurus, the largest carnivorous dinosaur, might have been just as well suited for life in the water as on land. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Meet Spinosaurus, the First-Known Water Dinosaur

Meet Spinosaurus, the First-Known Water Dinosaur

AFP (Sep. 11, 2014) — Spinosaurus aegyptiacus was adapted for both land and water, and an exhibit featuring a life-sized model, based on new fossils unearthed in eastern Morocco, opens at the National Geographic Museum in Washington on Friday. Duration: 01:02 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

      Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:  

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile iPhone Android Web
      Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins