Substrate determines asymmetrical gait dynamics in marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) and squirrel monkeys (Saimiri boliviensis)



Studies of skeletal pathology indicate that injury from falling accounts for most long bone trauma in free-ranging primates, suggesting that primates should be under strong selection to manifest morphological and behavioral mechanisms that increase stability on arboreal substrates. Although previous studies have identified several kinematic and kinetic features of primate symmetrical gaits that serve to increase arboreal stability, very little work has focused on the dynamics of primate asymmetrical gaits. Nevertheless, asymmetrical gaits typify the rapid locomotion of most primates, particularly in smaller bodied taxa. This study investigated asymmetrical gait dynamics in growing marmosets and squirrel monkeys moving on terrestrial and simulated arboreal supports (i.e., an elevated pole). Results showed that monkeys used several kinematic and kinetic adjustments to increase stability on the pole, including reducing peak vertical forces, limiting center of mass movements, increasing substrate contact durations, and using shorter and more frequent strides (thus limiting disruptive whole-body aerial phases). Marmosets generally showed greater adjustment to pole locomotion than did squirrel monkeys, perhaps as a result of their reduced grasping abilities and retreat from the fine-branch niche. Ontogenetic increases in body size had relatively little independent influence on asymmetrical gait dynamics during pole locomotion, despite biomechanical theory suggesting that arboreal instability is exacerbated as body size increases relative to substrate diameter. Overall, this study shows that 1) symmetrical gaits are not the only stable way to travel arboreally and 2) small-bodied primates utilize specific kinematic and kinetic adjustments to increase stability when using asymmetrical gaits on arboreal substrates. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2009. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.