Compliant walking in primates: Elbow and knee yield in primates compared to other mammals



It has been suggested that primates utilize a compliant gait to help reduce peak locomotor stresses on their limbs (Schmitt [1994] J. Hum. Evol. 26:441–458; Schmitt [ 1998] Primate Locomotion, p. 175–200; Schmitt [ 1999] J. Zool. Lond. 248:149–160). However, the components of such a gait, i.e., increased step length, prolonged contact time, and substantial limb yield, have only been documented on a handful of primate species. In order to explore the generality of this claim, elbow and knee angles during walking were documented at touchdown, midstance, and liftoff in a sample of primates, carnivores, marsupials, rodents, and artiodactyls, all under 25 kg. Limb yield was calculated as the change in angle from touchdown to midstance, and re-extension as the change in angle from midstance to liftoff for both forelimbs and hind limbs. Use of a compliant gait (as reflected in significant limb yield) in primates was confirmed for both forelimbs and hind limbs. However, there was variability within primates in the degree of either elbow or knee yield. Surprisingly, marsupials were found to exhibit almost as much elbow yield and even greater knee yield than primates. Carnivores and rodents display a modest amount of limb yield during walking, while artiodactyls appear to display a relatively stiff gait. These data are consistent with the suggestion that the use of a compliant gait to attenuate peak substrate reaction forces may have facilitated the primate invasion of a small-branch niche. However, limb compliance (as reflected by elbow or knee yield) does not appear to be exclusive to the primate order. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.