The stabilizing function of the tail during arboreal quadrupedalism.

Title

The stabilizing function of the tail during arboreal quadrupedalism.

Creator

Young JW; Chadwell BA; Dunham NT; McNamara A; Phelps T; Hieronymous TL; Shapiro LJ

Publisher

Integrative And Comparative Biology

Date

2021
2021-05-22

Description

Locomotion on the narrow and compliant supports of the arboreal environment is inherently precarious. Previous studies have identified a host of morphological and behavioral specializations in arboreal animals broadly thought to promote stability when on precarious substrates. Less well-studied is the role of the tail in maintaining balance. However, prior anatomical studies have found that arboreal taxa frequently have longer tails for their body size than their terrestrial counterparts, and prior laboratory studies of tail kinematics and the effects of tail reduction in focal taxa have broadly supported the hypothesis that the tail is functionally important for maintaining balance on narrow and mobile substrates. In the current set of studies, we extend this work in two ways. First, we use a laboratory dataset on three-dimensional segmental kinematics and tail inertial properties in squirrel monkeys (Saimiri boliviensis) to investigate how tail angular momentum is modulated during steady-state locomotion on narrow supports. In the second study, we use a quantitative dataset on quadrupedal locomotion in wild platyrrhine monkeys to investigate how free-ranging arboreal animals adjust tail movements in response to substrate variation, focusing on kinematic measures validated in prior laboratory studies of tail mechanics (including the laboratory data presented). Our laboratory results show that S. boliviensis significantly increase average tail angular momentum magnitudes and amplitudes on narrow supports, and primarily regulate that momentum by adjusting the linear and angular velocity of the tail (rather than via changes in tail posture per se). We build on these findings in our second study by showing that wild platyrrhines responded to the precarity of narrow and mobile substrates by extending the tail and exaggerating tail displacements, providing ecological validity to the laboratory studies of tail mechanics presented here and elsewhere. In conclusion, our data support the hypothesis that the long and mobile tails of arboreal animals serve a biological role of enhancing stability when moving quadrupedally over narrow and mobile substrates. Tail angular momentum could be used to cancel out the angular momentum generated by other parts of the body during steady-state locomotion, thereby reducing whole-body angular momentum and promoting stability, and could be used to mitigate the effects of destabilizing torques about the support should the animals encounter large, unexpected perturbations. Overall, these studies suggest that long and mobile tails should be considered among the fundamental suite of adaptations promoting safe and efficient arboreal locomotion.

Subject

angular momentum; balance; locomotor biomechanics; primates; Stability

Identifier

Rights

Article information provided for research and reference use only. All rights are retained by the journal listed under publisher and/or the creator(s).

Format

journalArticle

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ISSN

1557-7023 1540-7063

NEOMED College

NEOMED College of Medicine

NEOMED Department

Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology
NEOMED Student Publications

Update Year & Number

June 2021 List

Citation

Young JW; Chadwell BA; Dunham NT; McNamara A; Phelps T; Hieronymous TL; Shapiro LJ, “The stabilizing function of the tail during arboreal quadrupedalism.,” NEOMED Bibliography Database, accessed May 22, 2022, https://neomed.omeka.net/items/show/11695.

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