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J Exp Biol. 2004 Nov;207(Pt 24):4291-8.

Metabolic power of European starlings Sturnus vulgaris during flight in a wind tunnel, estimated from heat transfer modelling, doubly labelled water and mask respirometry.

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Aberdeen Centre for Energy Regulation and Obesity, School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, AB24 2TZ, UK.


It is technically demanding to measure the energetic cost of animal flight. Each of the previously available techniques has some disadvantage as well advantages. We compared measurements of the energetic cost of flight in a wind tunnel by four European starlings Sturnus vulgaris made using three independent techniques: heat transfer modelling, doubly labelled water (DLW) and mask respirometry. We based our heat transfer model on thermal images of the surface temperature of the birds and air flow past the body and wings calculated from wing beat kinematics. Metabolic power was not sensitive to uncertainty in the value of efficiency when estimated from heat transfer modelling. A change in the assumed value of whole animal efficiency from 0.19 to 0.07 (the range of estimates in previous studies) only altered metabolic power predicted from heat transfer modelling by 13%. The same change in the assumed value of efficiency would cause a 2.7-fold change in metabolic power if it were predicted from mechanical power. Metabolic power did not differ significantly between measurements made using the three techniques when we assumed an efficiency in the range 0.11-0.19, although the DLW results appeared to form a U-shaped power-speed curve while the heat transfer model and respirometry results increased linearly with speed. This is the first time that techniques for determining metabolic power have been compared using data from the same birds flying under the same conditions. Our data provide reassurance that all the techniques produce similar results and suggest that heat transfer modelling may be a useful method for estimating metabolic rate.

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