The physics of flight influences the morphology of bird wings through natural selection on flight performance. The connection between wing morphology and performance is unclear due to the complex relationships between various parameters of flight. In order to better understand this connection, we present a holistic analysis of gliding flight that preserves complex relationships between parameters. We use a computational model of gliding flight, along with analysis by uncertainty quantification, to 1) create performance landscapes of gliding based on output metrics (maximum lift-to-drag ratio, minimum gliding angle, minimum sinking speed, lift coefficient at minimum sinking speed); and 2) predict what parameters of flight (chordwise camber, wing aspect ratio, Reynolds number) would differ between gliding and non-gliding species of birds. We also examine performance based on soaring strategy for possible differences in morphology within gliding birds. Gliding birds likely have greater aspect ratios than non-gliding birds, due the high sensitivity of aspect ratio on most metrics of gliding performance. Furthermore, gliding birds can use two distinct soaring strategies based on performance landscapes. First, maximizing distance traveled (maximizing lift-to-drag ratio and minimizing gliding angle) should result in wings with high aspect ratios and middling-to-low wing chordwise camber. Second, maximizing lift extracted from updrafts should result in wings with middling aspect ratios and high wing chordwise camber. Following studies can test these hypotheses using morphological measurements.
Lindsay D Waldrop, Yanyan He, Tyson L Hedrick, Jonathan Rader, Functional morphology of gliding flight I. Modeling reveals distinct performance landscapes based on soaring strategies, Integrative and Comparative Biology, Volume 60, Issue 5, November 2020, Pages 1283–1296, https://doi.org/10.1093/icb/icaa114