Functional adaptations in the forelimb muscles of non-human great apes


Julia P. Myatt, Structure and Motion Lab, Royal Veterinary College, Hawkshead Lane, North Mymms, Hatfield, Hertfordshire AL9 7TA, UK. T: +44 0 1707 666423; E:;


The maximum capability of a muscle can be estimated from simple measurements of muscle architecture such as muscle belly mass, fascicle length and physiological cross-sectional area. While the hindlimb anatomy of the non-human apes has been studied in some detail, a comparative study of the forelimb architecture across a number of species has never been undertaken. Here we present data from chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and an orangutan to ascertain if, and where, there are functional differences relating to their different locomotor repertoires and habitat usage. We employed a combination of analyses including allometric scaling and ancovas to explore the data, as the sample size was relatively small and heterogeneous (specimens of different sizes, ages and sex). Overall, subject to possible unidentified, confounding factors such as age effects, it appears that the non-human great apes in this sample (the largest assembled to date) do not vary greatly across different muscle architecture parameters, even though they perform different locomotor behaviours at different frequencies. Therefore, it currently appears that the time spent performing a particular behaviour does not necessarily impose a dominating selective influence on the soft-tissue portion of the musculoskeletal system; rather, the overall consistency of muscle architectural properties both between and within the Asian and African apes strengthens the case for the hypothesis of a possible ancient shared evolutionary origin for orthogrady under compressive and/or suspensory loading in the great apes.