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Biol Res. 2007;40(2):193-201. Epub 2007 Nov 21.

Interplay between the morphometry of the lungs and the mode of locomotion in birds and mammals.

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Departamento de Ciencias Biológicas Animales, Facultad de Ciencias Veterinarias y Pecuarias, Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile.


We studied the lung diffusion parameters of two species of birds and two species of mammals to explore how structural and functional features may be paralleled by differences in life style or phylogenetic origin. We used two fast-flying species (one mammal and one bird), one running mammal and one bird species that flies only occasionally as models. The harmonic mean thickness of the air-blood barrier was very thin in the species we studied. An exception was the Chilean tinamou Notoprocta perdicaria, which only flies occasionally. It showed an air-blood barrier as thick as that of flightless Galliformes. We found that the respiratory surface density was significantly greater in flying species compared to running species. The estimated values for the oxygen diffusion capacity, DtO2 follow the same pattern: the highest values were obtained in the flying species, the bat and the eared dove. The lowest value was in N. perdicaria. Our findings suggest that the studied species show refinements in their morphometric lung parameters commensurate to their energetic requirements as dictated by their mode of locomotion, rather than their phylogenetic origin. The air-blood barrier appears to be thin in most birds and small mammals, except those with low energetic requirements such as the Chilean tinamou. In the species we studied, the respiratory surface density appears to be the factor most responsive to the energetic requirements of flight.

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