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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

hetreothalism in fungi
Lekhram Reply
there are 3 trimester in human pregnancy
I don't know answer of this question can u help me
what is a cell
Fatima Reply
A cell is functional and structural unit of life.
what is genetic
Janet Reply
I join
what are the branchas of biology
Prisca Reply
zoology, ecology
genetics, microbiology,botany and embryology
what is a cell
Kulunbawi Reply
cell is smallest unit of life. cells are often cell the building blocks of life...
the first twenty element
Orapinega Reply
what are the characteristics of living things?
growth,respiration,nutrition,sensitivity, movement,irritability, excretion,death.
What is the difference between adaptation and competition in animals
Adeyemi Reply
What is biology
it is a natural science stadey about living things
Biology is the bronch of science which deals with the study of life is called biology
what is the x in 300 stands for?
Ogbudu Reply
the properties of life
Clarinda Reply
response to the environment, reproduction, homeostasis, growth,energy processing etc.....
what is reproduction
Reproduction is a fundamental feature of all known life,each individual organism exist as a result of re production.....or else Multiplying...
a complete virus particle known as
Darlington Reply
These are formed from identical protein subunitscalled capsomeres.
fabace family plant name
Pushpam Reply
in eukaryotes ...protein channel name which transport protein ...
Pushpam Reply
in bacteria ...chromosomal dna duplicate structure called
what is a prokaryotic cell and a eukaryotic cell
Matilda Reply
There are two types of cells. Eukaryotic and Prokaryotic cells. Prokaryotic cells don't have a nucleus or membrane enclosed organelles (little organs within that cell). They do however carry genetic material but it's not maintained in the nucleus. Prokaryotic cells are also one celled.
Prokaryotic cells are one celled (single celled).
Prokaryotic cells are Bacteria and Archea
Prokaryotic cells are smaller than Eukaryotic cells.
Eukaryotic cells are more complex. They are much bigger than Prokaryotic cells.
Eukaryotic cells have a nucleus and membrane bound organelles.
Eukaryotic cells are animals cells which also includes us.
Eukaryotic cells are also multicellular.
nice explaination
eukaryotic cells are individual cells .. but eukaryotes are multicellular organisms which consist of many different types of eukaryotic cells
also eukaryotic cells have mitochondria. prokaryotic cells do not
in prokaryotes only ribosomes are present... in eukaryotes mitochondria ...glogi bodies ..epidermis .....prokaryotes one envelop but eukaryotes compartment envelop....envelop mean membrane bound organelles......
prokaryotic cell are cells dat have no true nuclei i.e no cell membrane while eukaryotic cell are cell dat have true nuclei i.e have cell membrane
we have 46 pair of somatic cell and 23 pair of chromosomes in our body, pls can someone explain it to me. pls
Matilda Reply
we have 22 pairs of somatic chromosomes and one pair of sex chromosome
we have 23 pairs of chromosomes,22 pairs of somatic and one pair of sex chromosomes
23 chromosomes from dad & 23 chromosomes from mom 23 +23=46 total chromosomes
X & Y chromosomes are called sex cells, the very presence of a Y chromosome means the person is Male.
XX Female XY Male
If a Karyotype has more than 46 Chromosomes then nondisjunction occured. For example, having an extra chromosome 21 will cause Down Syndrome.
am caira I want to join
caira,whrere are u from
I'm a Ghanaian

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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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