Ecophysiology

Staying away for the long haul

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Science  12 Aug 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6300, pp. 661-662
DOI: 10.1126/science.353.6300.661-e

Frigatebirds can fly long distances with little need for sleep.

PHOTO: BOB GIBBONS/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Frigatebirds can fly without stopping for months. Such long flights, however, present considerable challenges to some physiological processes, notably sleep. Scientists think that birds undergoing long flights use hemispheric sleep, where half of the brain sleeps at a time. To find out whether this is indeed the case, Rattenborg et al. placed mobile electroencephalogram recorders on flying frigatebirds and found that although they do use hemispheric sleep, especially when riding updrafts, they actually sleep remarkably little during their long flights. Though the birds may be able to catch up on their sleep when on land, it seems that they can mostly avoid the sleep deprivation effects that plague most vertebrates, an ability that is probably shaped by strong selection for wakefulness during flight.

Nat. Comm. 10.1038/ncomms12468 (2016).

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