Robert Dudley in the Panamanian rain forest

Research Expertise and Interest

metabolism, biomechanics, butterflies, energetics, flight, gliding, hummingbirds, insects, paleophysiology

Research Description

Robert Dudley's research focuses on the biomechanics, energetics, and evolution of animal flight, particularly in insects and hummingbirds. Flight mechanisms are investigated with high-speed three-dimensional videography, metabolic measurements, and experimental manipulations using physically-variable gas mixtures. One current interest is to describe hummingbird flight maneuverability and the dynamic regulation of three-dimensional force vectors. Laboratory studies of flight biomechanics are complemented by fieldwork at varied sites around the planet, focusing particularly on the ecophysiology of butterfly migrations in Panama and the biomechanical correlates of erratic flight paths.

Additional projects include the evolution of gliding in Southeast Asian flying lizards and Neotropical ants, hummingbird flight performance across elevational gradients in Peru, and the paleophysiology of arthropod gigantism. Research students are encouraged to ask idiosyncratic biomechanical and ecophysiological questions to which a diversity of technological and phylogenetic approaches available in the lab may be applied.

In the News

Skydiving Salamanders Live in World’s Tallest Trees

Salamanders that live their entire lives in the crowns of the world’s tallest trees, California’s coast redwoods, have evolved a behavior well-adapted to the dangers of falling from high places: the ability to parachute, glide and maneuver in mid-air.

Monkeys Often Eat Fruit Containing Alcohol, Shedding Light on Our Taste for Booze

For 25 years, UC Berkeley biologist Robert Dudley has been intrigued by humans’ love of alcohol. In 2014, he wrote a book proposing that our attraction to booze arose millions of years ago, when our ape and monkey ancestors discovered that the scent of alcohol led them to ripe, fermenting and nutritious fruit. A new study now supports this idea, which Dudley calls the “drunken monkey” hypothesis.

Drunken monkeys: what animals tell us about our thirst for booze

Robert Dudley, an evolutionary physiologist and professor of integrative biology, discusses his new book, “The Drunken Monkey, Why we drink and abuse alcohol” (UC Press 2014). Dudley talks about his motivations for writing the book, the evidence that our attraction to alcohol is an evolutionary adaptation, and what this means for efforts to prevent alcohol abuse.

How hummingbirds shake off the rain

Ever wonder how birds are able to fly in the rain? Robert Dudley and Victor Ortega-Jimenez showed that hummingbirds shake their heads with 34 g’s of force, much like a dog flings off water. But hummingbirds do this in flight in the heaviest downpour without losing control.

Featured in the Media

Please note: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or positions of UC Berkeley.
April 5, 2022
Cassandre Coyer
A new study shows that humans' tendency to drink alcohol might come from our primates' ancestors. The study published last month revealed findings that support the "drunken monkey hypothesis." Between June to September 2013, researchers observed the eating tendencies of black-handed spider monkeys for 12 hours each day on Barro Colorado Island in Panama. The monkeys are probably not getting drunk, University of California, Berkeley biologist Robert Dudley, who co-authored the study , said. In a 2014 book, "The Drunken Monkey: Why We Drink and Abuse Alcohol," Dudley explained some fruits eaten by primates have a "naturally high alcohol content of up to 7%." But he did not have data illustrating apes or monkeys sought out and preferred fermented fruits. "It (the study) is a direct test of the drunken monkey hypothesis," Dudley said in a news release. "Part one, there is ethanol in the food they're eating, and they're eating a lot of fruit. Then, part two, they're actually metabolizing alcohol — secondary metabolites, ethyl glucuronide and ethyl sulfate are coming out in the urine. What we don't know is how much of it they're eating and what the effects are behaviorally and physiologically. But it's confirmatory." This story appeared in dozens of media outlets. For more, see our press release at Berkeley News.
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