Gait selection and the ontogeny of quadrupedal walking in squirrel monkeys (Saimiri boliviensis)


  • Jesse W. Young

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), Rootstown, OH 44272
    2. Skeletal Biology Research Focus Area, NEOMED, Rootstown, OH 44272
    • Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Northeast Ohio Medical University, 4209 State Route 44, P.O. Box 95, Rootstown, OH 44272
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Locomotor researchers have long known that adult primates employ a unique footfall sequence during walking. Most mammals use lateral sequence (LS) gaits, in which hind foot touchdowns are followed by ipsilateral forefoot touchdowns. In contrast, most quadrupedal primates use diagonal sequence (DS) gaits, in which hind foot touchdowns are followed by contralateral forefoot touchdowns. However, gait selection in immature primates is more variable, with infants and juveniles frequently using LS gaits either exclusively or in addition to DS gaits. I explored the developmental bases for this phenomenon by examining the ontogeny of gait selection in juvenile squirrel monkeys walking on flat and simulated arboreal substrates (i.e., a raised pole). Although DS gaits predominated throughout development, the juvenile squirrel monkeys nonetheless utilized LS gaits in one-third of the ground strides and in one-sixth of pole strides. Multiple logistic regression analyses showed that gait selection within the juvenile squirrel monkey sample was not significantly associated with either age or body mass per se, arguing against the oft-cited argument that general neuromuscular maturation is responsible for ontogenetic changes in preferred footfall sequence. Rather, lower level biomechanical variables, specifically the position of the whole-body center of mass and the potential for interference between ipsilateral fore and hindlimbs, best explained variation in footfall patterns. Overall, results demonstrate the promise of developmental studies of growth and locomotor development to serve as “natural laboratories” in which to explore how variability in morphology is, or is not, associated with variability in locomotor behavior. Am J Phys Anthropol 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.