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Keywords:

  • energetics;
  • limb length;
  • walking speed

Abstract

The Froude number has been widely used in anthropology to adjust for size differences when comparing gait parameters or other nonmorphological locomotor variables (such as optimal walking speed or speed at gait transitions) among humans, nonhuman primates, and fossil hominins. However, the dynamic similarity hypothesis, which is the theoretical basis for Froude number corrections, was originally developed and tested at much higher taxonomic levels, for which the ranges of variation are much greater than in the intraspecific or intrageneric comparisons typical of anthropological studies. Here we present new experimental data on optimal walking speed and the mass-specific cost of transport at that speed from 19 adult humans walking on a treadmill, and evaluate the predictive power of the dynamic similarity hypothesis in this sample. Contrary to the predictions of the dynamic similarity hypothesis, we found that the mass-specific cost of transport at experimentally measured optimal walking speed and Froude number were not equal across individuals, but retained a significant correlation with body mass. Overall, the effect of lower limb length on optimal walking speed was weak. These results suggest that the Froude number may not be an effective way for anthropologists to correct for size differences across individuals, but more studies are needed. We suggest that researchers first determine whether geometric similarity characterizes their data before making inferences based on the dynamic similarity hypothesis, and then check the consistency of their results with and without Froude number corrections before drawing any firm conclusions. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.