The body size and temperature dependence of organismal locomotion

Ecology. 2020 Oct;101(10):e03114. doi: 10.1002/ecy.3114. Epub 2020 Jul 23.


The speed and maneuverability of organisms are central to their fitness, determining the strength and outcome of many species interactions that drive population and community-level processes. While locomotion is influenced by many internal and external factors, body size and temperature are two key factors governing organismal locomotion. Biologists have been measuring locomotor performance, particularly maximum speed, for over a century. Studies have tended to focus on single species or groups of species that are either phylogenetically related, functionally similar, or use the same habitat. Few studies compare locomotor performance across a diverse range of taxa or locomotor modes, very few have incorporated locomotor traits other than maximum speed, and the data are not accessible in a single database with standardized units. Here, we present a data set we compiled from the literature that contains 2,951 measurements of locomotor performance for five traits (exploratory speed, maximum speed, maximum acceleration, minimum powered turn radius, and maximum angular speed) that are important in the daily lives of many organisms. This represents the most diverse and comprehensive database on animal locomotion yet published and includes 884 species spanning 23 orders of magnitude of body size. Together with body size (mass and length) and temperature (body and ambient), we also provide data on trophic group and habitat (aerial, terrestrial, aquatic). In publishing our data set, we hope to encourage others to contribute to a continued effort to build this locomotion database and to analyze these data for underlying patterns. Interspecific analyses can help elucidate how organismal locomotion varies with important morphological and physiological traits and environmental conditions, revealing generalities and deviations in organismal locomotion. Additionally, intraspecific analyses, which are possible for a number of species in our data set, can help corroborate these patterns and deviations and explore potential mechanisms that could underlie these patterns. Insights from these analyses should uncover drivers of locomotor performance and contribute to an understanding about how locomotion shapes ecological processes across scales. There are no copyright or proprietary restrictions, except this data paper should be cited when data are used for publication. In addition, we would appreciate hearing for which research projects or teaching exercises these data are used.

Keywords: acceleration; angular speed; locomotor performance; maximum speed; organismal movement; routine speed; turn radius.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Size
  • Locomotion*
  • Temperature