The skeletal kinematics of lung ventilation in three basal bird taxa (emu, tinamou, and guinea fowl)

J Exp Zool A Ecol Genet Physiol. 2009 Oct 1;311(8):586-99. doi: 10.1002/jez.501.


In vivo visceral and skeletal kinematics of lung ventilation was examined using cineradiography in two palaeognaths, the emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) and the Chilean tinamou (Nothoprocta perdicaria), and a basal neognath, the helmeted guinea fowl (Numida meleagris). Upon inspiration, the thorax expands in all dimensions. The vertebral ribs swing forward and upward, thereby increasing the transverse diameter of the trunk. The consistent location of the parapophysis throughout the dorsal vertebral series, ventral and cranial to the diapophysis, ensures a relatively uniform lateral expansion. An increase in the angle between the vertebral and the sternal ribs causes the sternal ribs to push the sternum ventrally. Owing to the greater length of the caudal sternal ribs, the caudal sternal margin is displaced further ventrally than the cranial sternal margin. When observed in lateral view, sternal movement is not linear, but elliptical. The avian thorax is highly constrained in its movement when compared with crocodylians, the other extant archosaur clade. Birds lack a lumbar region and intermediate ribs. Sternal ribs are completely ossified, and have a bicondylar articulation with the sternum. Considering the importance of pressure differences between cranial and caudal air sac complexes for the generation of unidirectional air flow in the avian lung, it is hypothesized that a decrease in the degrees of freedom of movement of the avian trunk skeleton, greater expansion of the ventrocaudal trunk region, and elliptical sternal movement may represent specific adaptations for fine-tuned control over air flow within the complex avian pulmonary system.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Birds / classification
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Lung / physiology*
  • Species Specificity