Wing shape and flight behavior of pelecaniform seabirds

The selective pressures associated with flight are significant factors in shaping the morphology of volant forms. Tropical seabirds are of particular interest because of their long foraging bouts, which can last hundreds of kilometers in search of unpredictable (spatially and temporally) resources. Here, we contrast wing loading (WL), aspect ratio (AR), and planform shape among five pelecaniform seabirds and correlate morphological diversity with known differences in flight strategies. Overall, WL and AR scaled with body mass. The Great Frigratebird had lower WL than that predicted, whereas the Red-tailed Tropicbird had higher WL than that predicted. The tropicbird also exhibited a lower AR than that predicted. Visualization of planform shape was accomplished by using Thin-plate spline relative warp analysis (TPS/RWA), and three major regions of variations were discovered: wing base, mid-wing, and distal wing/wing tip. As expected, the three boobies were more similar than either the tropicbird or the frigatebird. The tropicbird had a broader distal wing and more rounded wing tip, associated with its greater use of flapping flight. The frigatebird showed the greatest deviation in the distal wing and wing tip associated with the high maneuverability required for aerial pursuit and kleptoparasitism. By using TPS/RWA, important differences were detected in planform shape that would have otherwise gone unnoticed when using only WL and AR. These differences correlated strongly with parameters such as maneuverability, flapping, and soaring flight.