Selective breeding for high endurance running increases hindlimb symmetry

Evolution. 2005 Aug;59(8):1851-4.


Comparative studies provide correlational evidence of morphological adaptations for high locomotor performance, such as the classical indicators of cursoriality in mammals, long limbs and high metatarsal/femur ratios. More recently, enlarged femoral condyles have been suggested as an adaptation for high endurance running in the genus Homo. Asymmetry of locomotor appendages should adversely affect locomotor abilities, but this has not been studied in a rigorous evolutionary context. We used experimental evolution to test for morphological adaptations associated with high voluntary wheel running in selectively bred lines of mice. Surprisingly, the classical indicators of cursoriality had not evolved in concert with high activity levels. Instead, high runners had larger femoral condyles and reduced directional asymmetry of hindlimb bones. We hypothesize that greater limb symmetry and larger femoral heads are general adaptations associated with sustained, high-speed locomotion.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological*
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Body Weights and Measures
  • Breeding / methods
  • Femur / anatomy & histology
  • Hindlimb / anatomy & histology*
  • Mice
  • Physical Exertion / physiology*
  • Running / physiology*