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Journal of Experimental Biology partnership with Dryad

The production of elevated flight force compromises manoeuvrability in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster
F.O. Lehmann, M.H. Dickinson


In this study, we have investigated how enhanced total flight force production compromises steering performance in tethered flying fruit flies, Drosophila melanogaster. The animals were flown in a closed-loop virtual-reality flight arena in which they modulated total flight force production in response to vertically oscillating visual patterns. By simultaneously measuring stroke amplitude and stroke frequency, we recorded the ability of each fly to modulate its wing kinematics at different levels of aerodynamic force production. At a flight force that exactly compensates body weight, the temporal deviations with which fruit flies vary their stroke amplitude and frequency are approximately 2.7 degrees and 4.8 Hz of their mean value, respectively. This variance in wing kinematics decreases with increasing flight force production, and at maximum force production fruit flies are restricted to a unique combination of stroke amplitude, stroke frequency and mean force coefficient. This collapse in the kinematic envelope during peak force production could greatly attenuate the manoeuvrability and stability of animals in free flight.