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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe how the structures of the lungs and thoracic cavity control the mechanics of breathing
  • Explain the importance of compliance and resistance in the lungs
  • Discuss problems that may arise due to a V/Q mismatch

Mammalian lungs are located in the thoracic cavity where they are surrounded and protected by the rib cage, intercostal muscles, and bound by the chest wall. The bottom of the lungs is contained by the diaphragm, a skeletal muscle that facilitates breathing. Breathing requires the coordination of the lungs, the chest wall, and most importantly, the diaphragm.

Types of breathing

Amphibians have evolved multiple ways of breathing. Young amphibians, like tadpoles, use gills to breathe, and they don’t leave the water. Some amphibians retain gills for life. As the tadpole grows, the gills disappear and lungs grow. These lungs are primitive and not as evolved as mammalian lungs. Adult amphibians are lacking or have a reduced diaphragm, so breathing via lungs is forced. The other means of breathing for amphibians is diffusion across the skin. To aid this diffusion, amphibian skin must remain moist.

Birds face a unique challenge with respect to breathing: They fly. Flying consumes a great amount of energy; therefore, birds require a lot of oxygen to aid their metabolic processes. Birds have evolved a respiratory system that supplies them with the oxygen needed to enable flying. Similar to mammals, birds have lungs, which are organs specialized for gas exchange. Oxygenated air, taken in during inhalation, diffuses across the surface of the lungs into the bloodstream, and carbon dioxide diffuses from the blood into the lungs and expelled during exhalation. The details of breathing between birds and mammals differ substantially.

In addition to lungs, birds have air sacs inside their body. Air flows in one direction from the posterior air sacs to the lungs and out of the anterior air sacs. The flow of air is in the opposite direction from blood flow, and gas exchange takes place much more efficiently. This type of breathing enables birds to obtain the requisite oxygen, even at higher altitudes where the oxygen concentration is low. This directionality of airflow requires two cycles of air intake and exhalation to completely get the air out of the lungs.

Evolution connection

Avian respiration

Birds have evolved a respiratory system that enables them to fly. Flying is a high-energy process and requires a lot of oxygen. Furthermore, many birds fly in high altitudes where the concentration of oxygen in low. How did birds evolve a respiratory system that is so unique?

Decades of research by paleontologists have shown that birds evolved from therapods, meat-eating dinosaurs ( [link] ). In fact, fossil evidence shows that meat-eating dinosaurs that lived more than 100 million years ago had a similar flow-through respiratory system with lungs and air sacs. Archaeopteryx and Xiaotingia , for example, were flying dinosaurs and are believed to be early precursors of birds.

 Illustration A shows the direction of airflow in both inhalation and exhalation in birds. During inhalation, air passes from the beak down the trachea to the posterior air sac located behind the lungs. From the posterior air sac, air enters the lungs, and the anterior air sac in front of the lungs. Air from both air sacs also enters hollows in bones. During exhalation air from hollows in the bones enters the air sacs, then the lungs, then the trachea, where it exits through the beaks. Illustration B compares a dinosaur and a bird. Both have anterior air sacs in front of the lungs, and posterior air sacs behind them. The air sacs connect to hollow openings in bones.
(a) Birds have a flow-through respiratory system in which air flows unidirectionally from the posterior sacs into the lungs, then into the anterior air sacs. The air sacs connect to openings in hollow bones. (b) Dinosaurs, from which birds descended, have similar hollow bones and are believed to have had a similar respiratory system. (credit b: modification of work by Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation)

Most of us consider that dinosaurs are extinct. However, modern birds are descendants of avian dinosaurs. The respiratory system of modern birds has been evolving for hundreds of millions of years.

Questions & Answers

what is reproduction
smart Reply
it is d act of bringing young ones to life
Oyebanji
to ensure survival of a species🚴‍♀️
Michelle
what is a genotype
Collins
what is hazardous
smart
a cell is the smallest unit of a living thing. so we all have cell
smart
It is the formation of a zygote resulting from the fusion of the sperm cell with the ovum.Thus,this results in the production of new species which are genetically dissimilar from their parent cells.
Pallavi
what is size of cell
Mohd Reply
what is size of Hart
Mohd
nanometers=um sign thingie
Michelle
microns=nanometers
Michelle
monomers and polymers of nucleic acids?
Jyrl Reply
dna and rna involvement
Michelle
give me the elements of the soil
Iguma Reply
Air, water, organic matter, inorganic matter
Tshwano
soil water humus air
Veronicah
yap
Beloved
silica, iron
Patience
potassium, sulfur, calcium, carbon
Michelle
what is cell
iyaji Reply
A cell is a smallest fundamental unit of a living organisms.
Kem
the basic structural and functional unit of life
Patience
what is size of cell
Mohd
all things are made up of.....all things cannot exist without pre-exisiting cells...check out the 16th ce tury to learn more about microscope use and cells. i will give a hint: Mr. L.
Michelle
we are all made of cells
Michelle
Nutrition - sensitive intervention
Therowda Reply
what does the sori In fern mean
arhin Reply
biology is the study .exactly what is life?
Jerry
i'm sorry , the study of life
Jerry
how can U identify a person through his blood
Frankyx Reply
through genetic fingerprinting where specific DNA sequences in a person genome can be identified.
Pallavi
by help of genetics and DNA test
Meerbadini
can it also be detected using an RNA test
Frankyx
environmental biology
Ojesola Reply
what is phytoplankton
Ojesola
What is anabolism
Treasure Reply
the break down of substance
Aunty
how many teeth has an adult person
TSEGAY Reply
36
Treasure
32
Favour
32
Kamaluddeen
32 teeth
Meerbadini
32
OLAMIDE
32 (or 36 including the wisdom teeth)
Hailey
32
Sani
26?🤓
Michelle
what is homoestastis
Ayo Reply
hypothalamus negative feedback vs. postive feedback systems.
Michelle
it is the maintenance of a steady internal environment.it is controlled largely by the brain especially the hypothalamus.
Oyebanji
What is a cell
Eric Reply
A cell is the building block of all organisms
Millicent
yes it is , it also helps in functions .
Joezman
cell is structural & functional unit of oraganisms
Meerbadini
it is a building blocks of a living organism
Joezman
it is the basic unit of life in living organisms
Nabwonso
it is the basic unite of life in living organisms
Nabwonso
it is the fundamental unit of life
Adewoye
it is the structural and functional unit of life
Ojesola
Why cells are classify as living and non living things
Millicent Reply
due to such as virus which acts as a living cell inside the cell of an organisms and out side of cell in form of crystals
Meerbadini
because there are living cells which performs complex processes such as reproduction and metabolism then there are dead cells like the top most part of the epidermis or the bark
irish
because there are living cells which performs complex function such as reproduction and metabolism
David
cause otherwise you could call fire alive
Marissa
what's nomenclature
Joseph Reply
assigning scientific name to organism
Azmat
yes, the genius name, and the species name
Justice
it is a scientific naming of organism
Meerbadini

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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