Bone histological correlates of high-frequency flapping flight and body mass in the furculae of birds

A phylogenetic approach

Fleur Ponton, Laetitia Montes, Jacques Castanet, Jorge Cubo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Citations (Scopus)


A parsimony optimization of the presence of high-frequency flapping flight onto a phylogeny of 29 species of birds shows that this is a derived character state that has been acquired at least four independent times: by the last common ancestor of Alcidae, that of Podicipedidae, that of Anatidae, and that of Rallidae. Cineradiographic analysis has shown that the furculae of birds underwent extraordinary deformations during the wingbeat cycle. Cyclical deformations are known to produce microfractures in the bone tissue, which may be a stimulus for Haversian remodelling, a mechanism of resorption and reconstruction of bone tissue that may repair bone microdamage. In the present study, we performed a comparative analysis in a phylogenetic context to test the effect of the frequency of cyclical deformations and body mass on the rate of Haversian remodelling in the furculae of birds. A variation partitioning analysis showed that the type of flight (high-frequency flapping flight vs. other kinds of flight of lower wing beat frequency) and body mass explained a significant portion of Haversian bone density (the outcome of Haversian remodelling) and that the phylogeny also explained a significant part of this variation. This phylogenetic signal on Haversian bone density variation may be the outcome of phylogenetic signal on the proximate causes producing Haversian remodelling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)729-738
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Alcidae
  • Anatidae
  • Bone tissue
  • Haversian remodelling
  • Phylogenetic comparative method
  • Podicipedidae
  • Rallidae
  • Variation partitioning

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