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Abstract

The evolution of therian mammals is to a large degree marked by changes in their motion systems. One of the decisive transitions has been from the sprawled, bi-segmented to the parasagittal, tri-segmented limb. Here, we review aspects of the tri-segmented limb in locomotion which have been elucidated in our research groups in the last 10 years. First, we report the kinematics of the tri-segmented therian limb from mouse to elephant in order to explore general principles of the therian limb configuration and locomotion. Torques will be reported from a previous paper (Witte et al., 2002. J Exp Biol 205:1339–1353) for a better understanding of the anti-gravity work of all limb joints. The stability of a limb in z-configuration will be explained and its advantage with respect to other potential solutions from modeling will be discussed. Finally, we describe how the emerging concept of self-stability can be explained for a tri-segmented leg template and how it affects the design of the musculoskeletal system and the operation of legs during locomotion. While locomotion has been considered as mainly a control problem in various disciplines, we stress the necessity to reduce control as much as possible. Central control can be cheap if the limbs are “intelligent” by means of their design. Gravity-induced movements and self-stability seem to be energy-saving mechanisms. J. Exp. Zool. 305A, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.