Avian furcula morphology may indicate relationships of flight requirements among birds

Journal of Morphology

DOI: 10.1002/jmor.1089



This study examined furcula (wishbone) shape relative to flight requirements. The furculae from 53 museum specimens in eight orders were measured: 1) three-dimensional shape (SR) as indicated by the ratio of the direct distance between the synostosis interclavicularis and the ligamentous attachment of one of its clavicles to the actual length of the clavicle between those same two points, and 2) curvature within the primary plane (LR) as indicated by the ratio of the length of the clavicle to the sum of the orthogonal distances between the same points using a projected image. Canonical discriminant analysis of these ratios placed the individuals into a) one of four general flight categories and b) one of eight taxonomic orders. The four flight categories were defined as: i) soaring with no flapping, ii) flapping with no soaring, iii) subaqueous (i.e., all wingbeats taking place under water), and iv) partial subaqueous (i.e., wingbeats used for both aerial and submerged flapping). The error rate for placement of the specimens in flight categories was only 26.4%, about half of the error rate for placement in taxonomic orders (51.3%). Subaqueous fliers (penguins, great auks) have furculae that are the most V-shaped. Partial subaqueous fliers (alcids, storm petrels) have furculae that are more U-shaped than the subaqueous fliers but more V-shaped than the aerial flapping fliers. The partial subaqueous fliers have furculae that are also the most anteriorly curved, possibly increasing protraction capability by changing the angle of applied force and increasing attachment area for the origin of the sternobrachialis pectoralis. The increased protraction capability can counteract profile drag, which is greater in water than in air due to the greater density of water. Soaring birds have furculae that are more U-shaped or circular than those of flapping birds and have the smallest range of variation. These results indicate that the shape of the furcula is functionally related to general differences in flight requirements and may be used to infer relationships of these requirements among birds. ?? 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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Avian furcula morphology may indicate relationships of flight requirements among birds
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Journal of Morphology
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Journal of Morphology
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