ecology & evolution of biomechanics of gliding in mammalian taxa
- Greg Byrnes & A.J. Spence, 2011. Ecological and biomechanical insights into the evolution of gliding in mammals. Integrative & Comparative Biology IN PRESS + Supplementary Data. ABSTRACT. Gliding has evolved independently at least six times in mammals. Multiple hypotheses have been proposed to explain the evolution of gliding. These include the evasion of predators, economical locomotion or foraging, control of landing forces, and habitat structure. Here we use a combination of comparative methods, and ecological and biomechanical data collected from free-ranging animals, to evaluate these hypotheses. Our comparative data suggest that the origins of gliding are often associated with shifts to low-quality diets, including leaves and plant exudates. Further, data from free-ranging colugos suggest that although gliding is not more energetically economical than moving through the canopy, it is much faster, allowing shorter times of transit between foraging patches, and therefore more time available to forage in a given patch. In addition to moving quickly, gliding mammals spend only a small fraction of their overall time engaged in locomotion, likely offsetting its high cost. Kinetic data for both take-off and landing suggest that selection on these behaviors could also have shaped the evolution of gliding. Glides are initiated by high-velocity leaps that are potentially effective in evading arboreal predators. Further, upon landing, the ability to control aerodynamic forces, and reduce velocity prior to impact, is likely key to extending distances of leaps or glides while reducing the likelihood of injury. It is unlikely that any one of these hypotheses exclusively explains the evolution of gliding, but by examining gliding in multiple groups of extant animals in ecological and biomechanical contexts, new insights into the evolution of gliding can be gained.