Compliant walking in primates
It is now well recognized that terrestrial mammals can maintain equivalent bone stresses despite dramatic differences in body size through the adoption of extended limb positions during locomotion. However, this dynamic solution is not available to all mammals. Medium- and large-bodied arboreal mammals, such as anthropoid primates, must maintain relatively gracile and mobile limbs in order to manoeuvre in a discontinuous arboreal environment. But they must also use flexed (i.e. crouched) limb positions in order to maintain balance on arboreal substrates, thus subjecting their gracile limbs to relatively high loads. To determine how primates resolve this conflict between their kinematics and their morphology, five species of Old World monkeys were videotaped with lateral, frontal, and overhead cameras while they walked at a range of natural speeds along a runway and raised horizontal poles instrumented with a force platform. Kinematic and kinetic data on the forelimb show that during arboreal quadrupedalism, Old World monkeys do crouch when travelling on arboreal supports compared to the ground. Simultaneously, they lower vertical peak reaction forces and thereby reduce and reorient the peak resultant substrate reaction force, so that moment arms and moments are roughly equivalent on poles and the ground. This is accomplished through the adoption of a compliant walking gait characterized by high degrees of forelimb protraction, substantial elbow yield, low vertical oscillations of the body, and long contact times. The use of a compliant walking gait appears to be extremely rare among mammals and is most likely related to an initial primate adaptation to quadrupedal locomotion on terminal branches. This gait represents a previously unrecognized dynamic postural mechanism for maintenance of similar bone stresses and safety factors in both arboreal and terrestrial environments.
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