Flight respiration and energetics

Annu Rev Physiol. 2000;62:179-205. doi: 10.1146/annurev.physiol.62.1.179.


We use a comparative approach to examine some of the physiological traits that make flight possible. Comparisons of related fliers and runners suggest that fliers generally have higher aerobic metabolic capacities than runners but that the difference is highly dependent on the taxa studied. The high metabolic rates of fliers relative to runners, especially in insects, are correlated with high locomotory muscle cycle frequencies and low efficiencies of conversion of metabolic power to mechanical power. We examine some factors that produce variation in flight respiration and energetics. Air temperature strongly affects the flight metabolic rate of some insects and birds. Flight speed interacts with flier mass, so that small fliers tend to exhibit a J-shaped power curve and larger fliers a U-shaped power curve. As body size increases, mass-specific aerobic flight metabolism decreases in most studies, but mass-specific power output is constant or increases, leading to an increase in efficiency with size. Intraspecific studies have revealed specific genetically based effects on flight metabolism and power output and multiple ecological correlates of flight capabilities.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds
  • Chiroptera
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Flight, Animal / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Insecta
  • Muscles / metabolism
  • Muscles / physiology
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Respiration*