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Flightlessness in Steamer-Ducks (Anatidae: tachyeres): Its Morphological Bases and Probable Evolution

Bradley C. Livezey and Philip S. Humphrey
Evolution
Vol. 40, No. 3 (May, 1986), pp. 540-558
DOI: 10.2307/2408576
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2408576
Page Count: 19
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Flightlessness in Steamer-Ducks (Anatidae: tachyeres): Its Morphological Bases and Probable Evolution
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Abstract

Flightlessness in Tachyeres is caused by wing-loadings in excess of 2.5 g·cm-2, which result from the large body size and small wing areas of the flightless species. Reduced wing areas of flightless species are related to absolutely shorter remiges, and to relatively or absolutely shortened wing bones, although these reductions differ among species. Reduced lengths of the ulna, radius, and carpometacarpus are associated most strongly with flightlessness. Pectoral muscles and the associated sternal keel are well developed in all species of Tachyeres, largely because of the use of wings in "steaming," an important locomotor behavior. Relative size of these muscles was greatest in largely flighted T. patachonicus; however, sexual dimorphism in wing-loadings results in flight-lessness in some males of this species. Proportions in the wing skeleton, intraspecific allometry, and limited data on growth indicate that the relatively short wing bones and remiges of flightless Tachyeres are produced developmentally by a delay in the growth of wing components, and that this heterochrony may underlie, in part, skeletal sexual dimorphism. Increased body size in flightless steamer-ducks is advantageous in territorial defense of food resources and young, and perhaps diving in cold, turbulent water; reductions in wing area probably reflect refinements for wing-assisted locomotion and combat. Flightlessness in steamer-ducks is not related to relaxed predation pressure, but instead was permitted selectively by the year-round habitability of the southern South American coasts. These conditions not only permitted the success of the three flightless species of Tachyeres, but at present may be moving marine populations of T. patachonicus toward flightlessness.

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