On birds: scale effects in the neognath hindlimb and differences in the gross morphology of wings and hindlimbs


  • Brandon M. Kilbourne

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    • Institute for Systematic Zoology & Evolutionary Biology, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, Jena, Thüringen, Germany
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E-mail: brandon.kilbourne@uni-jena.de


Scale effects on whole limb morphology (i.e. bones together with in situ overlying muscles) are well understood for the neognath forelimb. However, scale effects on neognath gross hindlimb morphology remain largely unexplored. To broaden our understanding of avian whole limb morphology, I investigated the scaling of hindlimb inertial properties in neognath birds, testing empirical scaling relationships against the model of geometric similarity. Inertial property data – mass, moment of inertia, centre of mass distance, and radius of gyration – were collected from 22 neognath species representing a wide range of locomotor specializations. When scaled against body mass, hindlimb inertial properties scale with positive allometry. Thus, in terms of morphology, larger bodied neognaths possess hindlimbs requiring disproportionately more energy to accelerate and decelerate relative to body mass than smaller bodied birds. When scaled against limb length, hindlimb inertial properties scale according to isometry. In the subclade Land Birds (sensu Hackett et al.), hindlimb inertial properties largely scale according to positive allometry. The contrasting results of positive allometry vs. isometry in neognaths are due to how hindlimb length scales against body mass. Negative allometry of hindlimb inertial properties, which would reduce terrestrial locomotion costs, would probably make the hindlimb susceptible to mechanical failure or too diminutive for its many ecological functions. Comparing the scaling relationships of wings and hindlimbs highlights how locomotor costs influence the scaling of limb inertial properties. © 2013 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2013, 110, 14–31.