Natural environments are characterized by variable wind that can pose significant challenges for flying animals and robots. However, our understanding of the flow conditions that animals experience outdoors and how these impact flight performance remains limited. Here, we combine laboratory and field experiments to characterize wind conditions encountered by foraging bumblebees in outdoor environments and test the effects of these conditions on flight. We used radio-frequency tags to track foraging activity of uniquely identified bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) workers, while simultaneously recording local wind flows. Despite being subjected to a wide range of speeds and turbulence intensities, we find that bees do not avoid foraging in windy conditions. We then examined the impacts of turbulence on bumblebee flight in a wind tunnel. Rolling instabilities increased in turbulence, but only at higher wind speeds. Bees displayed higher mean wingbeat frequency and stroke amplitude in these conditions, as well as increased asymmetry in stroke amplitude—suggesting that bees employ an array of active responses to enable flight in turbulence, which may increase the energetic cost of flight. Our results provide the first direct evidence that moderate, environmentally relevant turbulence affects insect flight performance, and suggest that flying insects use diverse mechanisms to cope with these instabilities.
One contribution of 19 to a theme issue ‘Coevolving advances in animal flight and aerial robotics’.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3575195.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.