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  1. Despite their enormous size, whales make their living as voracious predators. To catch their much smaller, more maneuverable prey, they have developed several unique locomotor strategies that require high energetic input, high mechanical power output and a surprising degree of agility. To better understand how body size affects maneuverability at the largest scale, we used bio-logging data, aerial photogrammetry and a high-throughput approach to quantify the maneuvering performance of seven species of free-swimming baleen whale. We found that as body size increases, absolute maneuvering performance decreases: larger whales use lower accelerations and perform slower pitch-changes, rolls and turns than smallermore »species. We also found that baleen whales exhibit positive allometry of maneuvering performance: relative to their body size, larger whales use higher accelerations, and perform faster pitch- changes, rolls and certain types of turns than smaller species. However, not all maneuvers were impacted by body size in the same way, and we found that larger whales behaviorally adjust for their decreased agility by using turns that they can perform more effectively. The positive allometry of maneuvering performance suggests that large whales have compensated for their increased body size by evolving more effective control surfaces and by preferentially selecting maneuvers that play to their strengths.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 1, 2023
  2. Fundamental scaling relationships influence the physiology of vital rates, which in turn shape the ecology and evolution of organisms. For diving mammals, benefits conferred by large body size include reduced transport costs and enhanced breath-holding capacity, thereby increasing overall foraging efficiency. Rorqual whales feed by engulfing a large mass of prey-laden water at high speed and filtering it through baleen plates. However, as engulfment capacity increases with body length (Engulfment Volume ∝ Body Length 3.57), the surface area of the baleen filter does not increase proportionally (Baleen Area ∝ Body Length1.82), and thus the filtration time of larger rorquals predictablymore »increases as the baleen surface area must filter a disproportionally large amount of water. We predicted that filtration time should scale with body length to the power of 1.75 (Filter Time ∝ Body Length1.75). We tested this hypothesis on four rorqual species using multi-sensor tags with corresponding unoccupied aircraft systems (UAS) -based body length estimates. We found that filter time scales with body length to the power of 1.79 (95% CI: 1.61 - 1.97). This result highlights a scale-dependent trade-off between engulfment capacity and baleen area that creates a biomechanical constraint to foraging through increased filtration time. Consequently, larger whales must target high density prey patches commensurate to the gulp size to meet their increased energetic demands. If these optimal patches are absent, larger rorquals may experience reduced foraging efficiency compared to smaller whales if they do not match their engulfment capacity to the size of targeted prey aggregations.« less
  3. Although ants are lauded for their strength, little is known about the limits of their load carrying abilities. We determined the maximal load carrying capacity of leaf-cutter ants by incrementally adding mass to the leaves they carried. Maximal load carrying ability scaled isometrically with body size, indicating that larger ants had the capacity to lift the same proportion of their body mass as smaller ants (8.78 * body mass). However, larger ants were captured carrying leaf fragments that represented a lower proportion of their body mass compared to their smaller counterparts. Therefore, when selecting leaves, larger ants retained a highermore »proportion of their load carrying capacity in reserve. This suggests that either larger ants require greater power reserves to overcome challenges they encounter along the trail, or leaf-cutter ants do not select loads that maximize the overall leaf transport rate of the colony.« less
  4. The largest animals are marine filter feeders, but the underlying mechanism of their large size remains unexplained. We measured feeding performance and prey quality to demonstrate how whale gigantism is driven by the interplay of prey abundance and harvesting mechanisms that increase prey capture rates and energy intake. The foraging efficiency of toothed whales that feed on single prey is constrained by the abundance of large prey, whereas filter-feeding baleen whales seasonally exploit vast swarms of small prey at high efficiencies. Given temporally and spatially aggregated prey, filter feeding provides an evolutionary pathway to extremes in body size that aremore »not available to lineages that must feed on one prey at a time. Maximum size in filter feeders is likely constrained by prey availability across space and time.« less