The evolution of vertical climbing in primates: evidence from reaction forces.


Journal Article

Vertical climbing is an essential behavior for arboreal animals, yet limb mechanics during climbing are poorly understood and rarely compared with those observed during horizontal walking. Primates commonly engage in both arboreal walking and vertical climbing, and this makes them an ideal taxa in which to compare these locomotor forms. Additionally, primates exhibit unusual limb mechanics compared with most other quadrupeds, with weight distribution biased towards the hindlimbs, a pattern that is argued to have evolved in response to the challenges of arboreal walking. Here we test an alternative hypothesis that functional differentiation between the limbs evolved initially as a response to climbing. Eight primate species were recorded locomoting on instrumented vertical and horizontal simulated arboreal runways. Forces along the axis of, and normal to, the support were recorded. During walking, all primates displayed forelimbs that were net braking, and hindlimbs that were net propulsive. In contrast, both limbs served a propulsive role during climbing. In all species, except the lorisids, the hindlimbs produced greater propulsive forces than the forelimbs during climbing. During climbing, the hindlimbs tends to support compressive loads, while the forelimb forces tend to be primarily tensile. This functional disparity appears to be body-size dependent. The tensile loading of the forelimbs versus the compressive loading of the hindlimbs observed during climbing may have important evolutionary implications for primates, and it may be the case that hindlimb-biased weight support exhibited during quadrupedal walking in primates may be derived from their basal condition of climbing thin branches.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Hanna, JB; Granatosky, MC; Rana, P; Schmitt, D

Published Date

  • September 2017

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 220 / Pt 17

Start / End Page

  • 3039 - 3052

PubMed ID

  • 28620013

Pubmed Central ID

  • 28620013

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1477-9145

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0022-0949

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1242/jeb.157628


  • eng