Dr. Robert Dudley

Dr. Robert Dudley

Dr. Dudley studies the biomechanics, energetics, and evolution of animal flight, particularly in insects and hummingbirds.

In the Lab

At Berkeley, Dr. Dudley uses a variety of methods to investigate flight mechanisms, including high-speed three-dimensional videography, metabolic measurements, and experimental manipulations using physically-variable gas mixtures.

His lab is currently describing aerial maneuvers in hummingbirds, erratic flight paths of butterflies, and the forward flight performance of hummingbirds flying in a large wind tunnel.

'Flying' Around the World

In addition to lab experiments, Dr. Dudley travels to various sites around the planet, including Panama, Peru, and China, to study flight performance of various species.

In Panama, Dr. Dudley works on the ecophysiology of butterfly migrations, the hovering flight of orchid bees, and gliding flight in wingless canopy ants.

In collaboration with Dr. Jim McGuire of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, Dr. Dudley also studies gliding flight in winged Southeast Asian flying lizards and the evolution of flight performance in South American hummingbirds.

Study site in Sichuan Province China
Study site in Sichuan Province, China

Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces in China have been the site of recent work on flight adaptations of bumblebees to high-altitude conditions.


When he's not in the lab or traveling to field sites, Dr. Dudley can be found in the Center for Integrative Biomechanics in Education and Research (CIBER). In collaboration with IB professors Dr. Robert Full and Dr. Mimi Koehl, CIBER was created to lead the development of the field of Integrative Systems Biomechanics.

Dr. Dudley: Q&A

Why a scientist?

Both of my parents were biologists, so exposure to science and the academic environment began early on. I was also fortunate while growing up to spend a lot of time in the forests and coastlines of the Northeast.

What led you to the questions that you are now investigating in your research?

Evolutionary origins of flight are a long-standing issue in biology, and our recent work with gliding ants, other insects, and flying squirrels seeks to shed new light on this problem.

For flight performance more generally, my lab has always been interested in maneuverability and in the size-dependence of aerial capacity. Our work on altitudinal adapation started with hummingbirds, and has now extended to bumblebees in Southwest China that, remarkably, can hover at different air densities corresponding to a vertical range of ten kilometers.

How does your research affect your classroom and/or lab?

In the department, I and colleagues team-teach a course on comparative biomechanics, during which we present both general methods and specific findings from our various research activities.

Berkeley is lucky to have a strong concentration of faculty in physiology and biomechanics, which means that our undergraduates and graduate students get much more exposure to cutting-edge research than would otherwise be the case.

What do you enjoy most about your research?

It's always fun to come up with new ideas about how different kinds of animals glide or fly, and then to test these hypotheses under both laboratory and field conditions.

February 2006

Butterfly capture over Lake Gatun, Republic of Panama

For more information, visit:

Dudley Faculty Page

Center for Integrative Biomechanics, Education and Research