High Wing-Loading Correlates with Dive Performance in Birds, Suggesting a Strategy to Reduce Buoyancy

Anthony B. Lapsansky, Douglas R. Warrick, Bret W. Tobalske

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Diving birds are regarded as a classic example of morphological convergence. Divers tend to have small wings extending from rotund bodies, requiring many volant species to fly with rapid wingbeats, and rendering others flightless. The high wing-loading of diving birds is frequently associated with the challenge of using forelimbs adapted for flight for locomotion in a "draggier"fluid, but this does not explain why species that rely exclusively on their feet to dive should have relatively small wings, as well. Therefore, others have hypothesized that ecological factors shared by wing-propelled and foot-propelled diving birds drive the evolution of high wing-loading. Following a reexamination of the aquatic habits of birds, we tested between hypotheses seeking to explain high wing-loading in divers using new comparative data and phylogenetically informed analyses. We found little evidence that wing-propelled diving selects for small wings, as wing-propelled and foot-propelled species share similar wing-loadings. Instead, our results suggest that selection to reduce buoyancy has driven high wing-loading in divers, offering insights for the development of bird-like aquatic robots.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)878-889
Number of pages12
JournalIntegrative and Comparative Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2022


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