Kinematic plasticity during flight in fruit bats: individual variability in response to loading

PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e36665. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0036665. Epub 2012 May 15.


All bats experience daily and seasonal fluctuation in body mass. An increase in mass requires changes in flight kinematics to produce the extra lift necessary to compensate for increased weight. How bats modify their kinematics to increase lift, however, is not well understood. In this study, we investigated the effect of a 20% increase in mass on flight kinematics for Cynopterus brachyotis, the lesser dog-faced fruit bat. We reconstructed the 3D wing kinematics and how they changed with the additional mass. Bats showed a marked change in wing kinematics in response to loading, but changes varied among individuals. Each bat adjusted a different combination of kinematic parameters to increase lift, indicating that aerodynamic force generation can be modulated in multiple ways. Two main kinematic strategies were distinguished: bats either changed the motion of the wings by primarily increasing wingbeat frequency, or changed the configuration of the wings by increasing wing area and camber. The complex, individual-dependent response to increased loading in our bats points to an underappreciated aspect of locomotor control, in which the inherent complexity of the biomechanical system allows for kinematic plasticity. The kinematic plasticity and functional redundancy observed in bat flight can have evolutionary consequences, such as an increase potential for morphological and kinematic diversification due to weakened locomotor trade-offs.

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 / physiology*
  • Female
  • Flight, Animal*