Locomotor energetics in primates: Gait mechanics and their relationship to the energetics of vertical and horizontal locomotion



All primates regularly move within three-dimensional arboreal environments and must often climb, but little is known about the energetic costs of this critical activity. Limited previous work on the energetics of incline locomotion suggests that there may be differential selective pressures for large compared to small primates in choosing to exploit a complex arboreal environment. Necessary metabolic and gait data have never been collected to examine this possibility and biomechanical mechanisms that might explain size-based differences in the cost of arboreal movement. Energetics and kinematics were collected for five species of primate during climbing and horizontal locomotion. Subjects moved on a treadmill with a narrow vertical substrate and one with a narrow horizontal substrate at their maximum sustainable speed for 10–20 min while oxygen consumption was monitored. Data during climbing were compared to those during horizontal locomotion and across size. Results show that climbing energetic costs were similar to horizontal costs for small primates (<0.5 kg) but were nearly double for larger species. Spatio-temporal gait characteristics suggest that the relationship between the cost of locomotion and the rate of force production changes between the two locomotor modes. Thus, the main determinants of climbing costs are fundamentally different from those during horizontal locomotion. These new results combining spatiotemporal and energetic data confirm and expand on our previous argument (Hanna et al.: Science 320 (2008) 898) that similar costs of horizontal and vertical locomotion in small primates facilitated the successful occupation of a fine-branch arboreal milieu by the earliest primates. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.