Jolan S. Theriault, Joseph W. Bahlman, Robert E. Shadwick, and Douglas L. Altshuler

Control of wing shape is believed to be a key feature that allows most birds to produce aerodynamically efficient flight behaviors and high maneuverability. Anatomical organization of intrinsic wing muscles suggests specific roles for the different motor elements in wing shape modulation, but testing these hypothesized functions requires challenging measurements of muscle activation and strain patterns, and force dynamics. The wing muscles that have been best characterized during flight are the elbow muscles of the pigeon (Columba livia). In vivo studies during different flight modes revealed variation in strain profile, activation timing and duration, and contractile cycle frequency of the humerotriceps, suggesting that this muscle may alter wing shape in diverse ways. To examine the multifunction potential of the humerotriceps, we developed an in situ work loop approach to measure how activation duration and contractile cycle frequency affected muscle work and power across the full range of activation onset times. The humerotriceps produced predominantly net negative power, likely due to relatively long stimulus durations, indicating that it absorbs work, but the work loop shapes also suggest varying degrees of elastic energy storage and release. The humerotriceps consistently exhibited positive and negative instantaneous power within a single contractile cycle, across all treatments. When combined with previous in vivo studies, our results indicate that both within and across contractile cycles, the humerotriceps can dynamically shift among roles of actuator, brake, and stiff or compliant spring, based on activation properties that vary with flight mode.

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