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Keywords:

  • desert environment;
  • gaits;
  • jackal;
  • movement;
  • Namib

Abstract

Gait selection is a strategy used by quadrupeds to meet the demands of locomotion under variable environmental conditions. The movement of black-backed jackals Canis mesomelas within a desert area was investigated. The usage and distribution of gaits in three distinct desert environments in the Namib Desert, Namibia, were analysed. The areas were chosen based on topographical differences: a bare, a featureless sand plain in an interdune valley, a large sand dune and a narrow dune valley with clumped plant growth. Fresh jackal tracks were recorded by GPS once a week for 1 year. Gait types, gait segment lengths and the rate of switches between gaits were analysed. Trot was the most frequently used gait in all areas, followed by walk and the two types of gallop. Jackals used faster gaits, with the lowest number of gait switches in the interdune plain. Movements on the sand dune were characterized by shorter gait segment lengths and frequent gait changes. In the dune valley, movements were slower and the rate of gait changes was intermediate between the other two areas. The strongest influence on gait choice and on gait changes was found to be the terrain topography, mainly the grade. Gait and track choice can be seen as a dynamic adaptation to a demanding environment like the Namib Desert.