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ARS Home » Plains Area » Sidney, Montana » Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory » Pest Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #223041

Title: Aeroecology: Probing and Modeling the Aerosphere

item KELLY, T.
item Srygley, Robert
item Westbrook, John

Submitted to: Annual Meeting of Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/1/2008
Publication Date: 7/1/2008
Citation: Kunz, T.H., Gauthreaux, Jr., S.A., Hristov, N.I., Horn, J.W., Jones, G., Kalko, E.K., Kelly, T.A., Larkin, R.P., Mccracken, G.F., Swartz, S.M., Srygley, R.B., Dudley, R., Westbrook, J. K. and Wikelski, M. 2008. Aeroecology: Probing and Modeling the Aerosphere. Integrative and Comparative Biology. 48(1):1-11.

Interpretive Summary: Some animals spend at least part of their life in the atmosphere near to the Earth’s surface – the aerosphere. Aeroecology is the study of interactions between organisms that spend significant proportions of their lives in the aerosphere and their physical and biotic environments. All bats and most birds, insects and spiders use the aerosphere to some extent. Daily and seasonal cycles in the aerosphere are reflected in the daily and seasonal movement patterns of its inhabitants. The aerosphere is a dynamic medium due to variation in temperature, solar radiation, and winds, and this in turn has influenced how animals use the aerosphere for transport and encountering food and mates. Moreover, humans are altering the aerosphere with air traffic, wind farms, city lights, and emissions from vehicles and factories. A full understanding of how animals adapt to these changing conditions will require collaborations between biologists, climatologists, engineers and mathematicians. Ultimately we need to incorporate the aerosphere and its inhabitants into our understanding of ecosystem health, human health, and biodiversity.

Technical Abstract: The aerosphere or planetary boundary layer of the Earth’s atmosphere influences both the daily and seasonal movements of organisms. Because the aerosphere is considerably more variable and dynamic on both temporal and spatial scales than the lithosphere and hydrosphere, its effects can have both short- and long-term consequences for organisms that use this environment. No organism spends its entire life in the aerosphere, yet many species spend a significant proportion of their lives in this environment so that the physical conditions and biotic interactions of organisms aloft have created important selection pressures that influence traits such as size and shape, which in turn facilitate both passive and active displacements. The aerosphere also influenced behavioral, sensory, metabolic, and respiratory functions of organisms in a myriad of ways. In contrast to organisms that depend strictly on terrestrial or aquatic existence, organisms that routinely use the aerosphere are almost immediately influenced by changing atmospheric conditions (e.g. winds, air density, precipitation, air temperature), sunlight, polarized light, day length, moon light, geomagnetic and gravitational fields. In addition, the aerosphere has both direct and indirect effects on organisms, often more so than those that spend significant amounts of time on land or in water. Future advances in aeroecology will be made when research conducted by atmospheric scientists, engineers, and mathematical modelers is fully integrated across both temporal and spatial scales with those of biologists, who primarily focus on the organism and environments in which they live. Ultimately, understanding how organisms such as insects, birds, and bats aloft are influenced by a dynamic aerosphere will be of critical importance for assessing, understanding, and maintaining ecosystem health, human health, and biodiversity.