Evidence for a mass dependent step-change in the scaling of efficiency in terrestrial locomotion

PLoS One. 2009 Sep 7;4(9):e6927. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006927.


A reanalysis of existing data suggests that the established tenet of increasing efficiency of transport with body size in terrestrial locomotion requires re-evaluation. Here, the statistical model that described the data best indicated a dichotomy between the data for small (<1 kg) and large animals (>1 kg). Within and between these two size groups there was no detectable difference in the scaling exponents (slopes) relating metabolic (E(met)) and mechanical costs (E(mech, CM)) of locomotion to body mass (M(b)). Therefore, no scaling of efficiency (E(mech, CM)/E(met)) with M(b) was evident within each size group. Small animals, however, appeared to be generally less efficient than larger animals (7% and 26% respectively). Consequently, it is possible that the relationship between efficiency and M(b) is not continuous, but, rather, involves a step-change. This step-change in the efficiency of locomotion mirrors previous findings suggesting a postural cause for an apparent size dichotomy in the relationship between E(met) and M(b). Currently data for E(mech, CM) is lacking, but the relationship between efficiency in terrestrial locomotion and M(b) is likely to be determined by posture and kinematics rather than body size alone. Hence, scaling of efficiency is likely to be more complex than a simple linear relationship across body sizes. A homogenous study of the mechanical cost of terrestrial locomotion across a broad range of species, body sizes, and importantly locomotor postures is a priority for future research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena*
  • Body Size*
  • Brachyura / physiology
  • Cockroaches / physiology
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Locomotion*
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Motor Activity
  • Movement