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Characteristics of the alula in relation to wing and body size in the Laridae and Sternidae

Characteristics of the alula in relation to wing and body size in the Laridae and Sternidae
Lee, Sang ImChoi, Hae Cheon
DGIST Authors
Lee, Sang Im; Choi, Hae Cheon
Issue Date
Animal Cells and Systems, 21(1), 63-69
Article Type
The alula is a small structure present on the leading edge of bird wings and is known to enhance lift by creating a small vortex at its tip. Alula size vary among birds, but how this variation is associated with the function of the alula remains unclear. In this study, we investigated the relationship between the size and shape of the alula and the features of the wing in the Laridae and Sternidae. Laridae birds have generally longer wings and greater loadings than Sternidae birds. The two families differed in the relationships between body size or wing length and the size or shape of the alula. In the Laridae, the aspect ratio of the alula was smaller in the species that have relatively longer wings, but the pattern was opposite in the Sternidae. The aspect ratio of the alula was greater in the species that are relatively heavier in the Sternidae but not in the Laridae. Combined, these results suggest that the species with high loading potential and long wings exhibit long alula. We hypothesize that heavier species may benefit from having longer alula if they perform flights with higher attack angles than lighter species, as longer alula would better suppress flow separation at higher attack angles. Our results suggest that the size and shape of the alula can be explained in one allometric landscape defined by wing length and loading in these two closely related families of birds with similar wing shapes.
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Department of New BiologyLab of Integrative Animal Ecology1. Journal Articles

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