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"From Ants to Hummingbirds: The Evolution of Flight"
Robert Dudley, PhD
Professor of Biology
University of California, Berkeley
Unsteady aerodynamic mechanisms underpinning animal flight have recently been intensively studied, but less well understood are those evolutionary pathways leading to the acquisition and subsequent elaboration of flapping flight. Recently discovered behaviors in Neotropical canopy ants and other arthropods demonstrate directed aerial descent in the complete absence of wings; controlled aerial behavior appears to have preceded the origin of wings in insects and other flying animals. For fully flighted forms, the use of physically variable gas mixtures permits the decoupling of physiological from aerodynamic constraints on hovering performance. Such constraints are revealed in natural contexts through phylogenetically based analysis of hummingbird and bumblebee flight capacity across steep altitudinal transects.
Robert Dudley was an undergraduate at Duke University, received his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge, and then lived for five years in the rainforests of Panama as a postdoctoral fellow with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. After ten years at UT-Austin, he relocated in 2002 to UC-Berkeley, where his lab works on the biomechanics, energetics, and evolution of flight in insects and hummingbirds.