Quantifying the complexity of bat wing kinematics

J Theor Biol. 2008 Oct 7;254(3):604-15. doi: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2008.06.011. Epub 2008 Jun 25.


Body motions (kinematics) of animals can be dimensionally complex, especially when flexible parts of the body interact with a surrounding fluid. In these systems, tracking motion completely can be difficult, and result in a large number of correlated measurements, with unclear contributions of each parameter to performance. Workers typically get around this by deciding a priori which variables are important (wing camber, stroke amplitude, etc.), and focusing only on those variables, but this constrains the ability of a study to uncover variables of influence. Here, we describe an application of proper orthogonal decomposition (POD) for assigning importances to kinematic variables, using dimensional complexity as a metric. We apply this method to bat flight kinematics, addressing three questions: (1) Does dimensional complexity of motion change with speed? (2) What body markers are optimal for capturing dimensional complexity? (3) What variables should a simplified reconstruction of bat flight include in order to maximally reconstruct actual dimensional complexity? We measured the motions of 17 kinematic markers (20 joint angles) on a bat (Cynopterus brachyotis) flying in a wind tunnel at nine speeds. Dimensional complexity did not change with flight speed, despite changes in the kinematics themselves, suggesting that the relative efficacy of a given number of dimensions for reconstructing kinematics is conserved across speeds. By looking at subsets of the full 17-marker set, we found that using more markers improved resolution of kinematic dimensional complexity, but that the benefit of adding markers diminished as the total number of markers increased. Dimensional complexity was highest when the hindlimb and several points along digits III and IV were tracked. Also, we uncovered three groups of joints that move together during flight by using POD to quantify correlations of motion. These groups describe 14/20 joint angles, and provide a framework for models of bat flight for experimental and modeling purposes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Chiroptera / anatomy & histology
  • Chiroptera / physiology*
  • Flight, Animal / physiology*
  • Joints / anatomy & histology
  • Joints / physiology
  • Video Recording / methods
  • Wings, Animal / anatomy & histology
  • Wings, Animal / physiology*