Convergent evolution in locomotory patterns of flying and swimming animals

Nat Commun. 2011 Jun 14;2:352. doi: 10.1038/ncomms1350.


Locomotion is one of the major energetic costs faced by animals and various strategies have evolved to reduce its cost. Birds use interspersed periods of flapping and gliding to reduce the mechanical requirements of level flight while undergoing cyclical changes in flight altitude, known as undulating flight. Here we equipped free-ranging marine vertebrates with accelerometers and demonstrate that gait patterns resembling undulating flight occur in four marine vertebrate species comprising sharks and pinnipeds. Both sharks and pinnipeds display intermittent gliding interspersed with powered locomotion. We suggest, that the convergent use of similar gait patterns by distinct groups of animals points to universal physical and physiological principles that operate beyond taxonomic limits and shape common solutions to increase energetic efficiency. Energetically expensive large-scale migrations performed by many vertebrates provide common selection pressure for efficient locomotion, with potential for the convergence of locomotory strategies by a wide variety of species.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acceleration*
  • Adaptation, Biological / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Argentina
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Flight, Animal / physiology*
  • Fur Seals / physiology*
  • Gait / physiology
  • Seals, Earless / physiology*
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Sharks / physiology*
  • Species Specificity
  • Swimming / physiology*
  • Telemetry