Posture, gait and the ecological relevance of locomotor costs and energy-saving mechanisms in tetrapods

Zoology (Jena). 2007;110(4):271-89. doi: 10.1016/j.zool.2007.01.003. Epub 2007 May 7.


A reanalysis of locomotor data from functional, energetic, mechanical and ecological perspectives reveals that limb posture has major effects on limb biomechanics, energy-saving mechanisms and the costs of locomotion. Regressions of data coded by posture (crouched vs. erect) reveal nonlinear patterns in metabolic cost, limb muscle mass, effective mechanical advantage, and stride characteristics. In small crouched animals energy savings from spring and pendular mechanisms are inconsequential and thus the metabolic cost of locomotion is driven by muscle activation costs. Stride frequency appears to be the principal functional parameter related to the decreasing cost of locomotion in crouched animals. By contrast, the shift to erect limb postures invoked a series of correlated effects on the metabolic cost of locomotion: effective mechanical advantage increases, relative muscle masses decrease, metapodial limb segments elongate dramatically (as limbs shift from digitigrade to unguligrade designs) and biological springs increase in size and effectiveness. Each of these factors leads to decreases in the metabolic cost of locomotion in erect forms resulting from real and increasing contributions of pendular savings and spring savings. Comparisons of the relative costs and ecological relevance of different gaits reveal that running is cheaper than walking in smaller animals up to the size of dogs but running is more expensive than walking in horses. Animals do not necessarily use their cheapest gaits for their predominant locomotor activity. Therefore, locomotor costs are driven more by ecological relevance than by the need to optimize locomotor economy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Gait / physiology*
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Models, Anatomic
  • Posture / physiology*
  • Running / physiology
  • Vertebrates / physiology*
  • Walking / physiology