Evolutionary implications of the unusual walking mechanics of the common marmoset (C. jacchus)

Authors

  • Daniel Schmitt

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biological Anthropology and Anatomy, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina 27710
    • Department of Biological Anthropology and Anatomy, Duke University Medical Center, Box 3170, Durham, NC 27710
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Abstract

Several features that appear to differentiate the walking gaits of most primates from those of most other mammals (the prevalence of diagonal-sequence footfalls, high degrees of humeral protraction, and low forelimb vs. hindlimb peak vertical forces) are believed to have evolved in response to requirements of locomotion on thin arboreal supports by early primates that had developed clawless grasping hands and feet. This putative relationship between anatomy, behavior, and ecology is tested here by examining gait mechanics in the common marmoset (Callithrix jacchus), a primate that has sharp claws and reduced pedal grasping, and that spends much of its time clinging on large trunks. Kinematic and kinetic data were collected on three male Callithrix jacchus as they walked across a force platform attached to the ground or to raised horizontal poles. The vast majority of all walking gaits were lateral-sequence. For all steps, the humerus was retracted (<90° relative to a horizontal axis) or held in a neutral (90°) position at forelimb touchdown. Peak vertical forces on the forelimb were always higher than those on the hindlimb. These three features of the walking gaits of C. jacchus separate it from any other primate studied (including other callitrichids). The walking gaits of C. jacchus are mechanically more similar to those of small, nonprimate mammals. The results of this study support previous models that suggest that the unusual suite of features that typify the walking gaits of most primates are adaptations to the requirements of locomotion on thin arboreal supports. These data, along with data from other primates and marsupials, suggest that primate postcranial and locomotor characteristics are part of a basal adaptation for walking on thin branches. Am J Phys Anthropol 120:000–000, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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