Birds can sleep in flight

Discussion in 'Biology & Genetics' started by Plazma Inferno!, Aug 8, 2016.

  1. Plazma Inferno! Ding Ding Ding Ding Administrator

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    For the first time, researchers have discovered that birds can sleep in flight. Together with an international team of colleagues, Niels Rattenborg from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen measured the brain activity of frigatebirds and found that they sleep in flight with either one cerebral hemisphere at a time or both hemispheres simultaneously. Despite being able to engage in all types of sleep in flight, the birds slept less than an hour a day, a mere fraction of the time spent sleeping on land. How frigate birds are able to perform adaptively on such little sleep remains a mystery.
    But, how might a bird sleep in flight without colliding with obstacles or falling from the sky? One solution would be to only switch off half of the brain at a time, as Rattenborg showed in mallard ducks sleeping in a dangerous situation on land. When sleeping at the edge of a group, mallards keep one cerebral hemisphere awake and the corresponding eye open and directed away from the other birds, toward a potential threat. Based on these findings and the fact that dolphins can swim while sleeping unihemispherically, it is commonly assumed that birds also rely on this sort of autopilot to navigate and maintain aerodynamic control during flight.
    However, it is also possible that birds evolved a way to cheat on sleep. The sleep researcher's and colleagues' recent discovery that male pectoral sandpipers competing for females can perform adaptively for several weeks despite sleeping very little raised the possibility that birds simply forgo sleep altogether in flight. Consequently, evidence of continuous flight is not by default evidence of sleep in flight: Without directly measuring a bird's brain state, previous claims that birds sleep in flight remain mere speculation.

    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-08/m-feo080316.php

    Paper: http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2016/160803/ncomms12468/full/ncomms12468.html
     

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