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Size Limits on Flying Animals



From: Ben Creisler
bcreisler@gmail.com

A recent paper not yet mentioned on the DML:

Michael Habib (2013)
Constraining the Air Giants: Limits on Size in Flying Animals as an
Example of Constraint-Based Biomechanical Theories of Form.
Biological Theory (advance online publication)
DOI: 10.1007/s13752-013-0118-y
http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13752-013-0118-y


The study of biomechanics most often takes a classic adaptationist
approach, examining the functional abilities of organisms in relation
to what is allowed by physical parameters. This approach generally
assumes strong selection and is less concerned with evolutionary
stochasticity in determining the presence of biological traits. It is
equally important, however, to consider the importance of constraint
in determining the form of organisms. If selection is relatively weak
compared to stochastic events, then the observed forms in living
systems can be taken not as those shapes that were strongly selected
for, so much as those forms that do not violate physical rules and
therefore persist. Using the problem of maximum animal size as a case
study for this alternative biomechanical philosophy, I demonstrate one
example of how biomechanical approaches can be used to study
constraint and consider the concept of absent forms. This alternative
mindset and approach produces a complementary system to the
traditional form and function approach in biomechanics. The two
philosophies can be used in conjunction to better understand
biological systems. I focus particularly on the maximum size of flying
animals, as they are a heavily constrained class of system that has
also been shaped by substantial stochasticity.