A Step Forward: Functional Diversity and Emerging Themes of Slow-Speed Locomotion in Vertebrates

Alice C. Gibb, Haley Amplo, Mikayla Struble, Sandy M. Kawano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

Walking can be broadly defined as a slow-speed movement produced when appendages interact with the ground to generate forward propulsion. Until recently,most studies of walking have focused on humans and a handful of domesticated vertebratesmoving at a steady rate over highly simplified, static surfaces,whichmay bias our understanding of the unifying principles that underlie vertebrate locomotion. In the last few decades, studies have expanded to include a range of environmental contexts (e.g., uneven terrain, perturbations, deformable substrates) and greater phylogenetic breadth (e.g., non-domesticated species, small and/or ectothermic tetrapods and fishes); these studies have revealed that even a gait as superficially simple as walking is far more complex than previously thought. In addition, technological advances and accessibility of imaging systems and computational power have recently expanded our capabilities to test hypotheses about the locomotormovements of extant and extinct organisms in silico. In this symposium, scientists showcased diverse taxa (fromextant fishes to extinct dinosaurs) moving through a range of variable conditions (speed perturbations, inclines, and deformable substrates) to address the causes and consequences of functional diversity in locomotor systems and discuss nascent research areas and techniques. From the symposium contributions, several themes emerged: (1) slow-speed, appendage-based movements in fishes are best described as walking-like movements rather than true walking gaits, (2) environmental variation (e.g., deformable substrates) and dynamic stimuli (e.g., perturbations) trigger kinematic and neuromuscular changes in animals that make defining a single gait or the transition between gaits more complicated than originally thought, and (3) computational advances have increased the ability to process large data sets, emulate the 3D motions of extant and extinct taxa, and even model species interactions in ancient ecosystems. Although this symposium allowed us to make great strides forward in our understanding of vertebrate walking, much ground remains to be covered. First, there is a much greater range of vertebrate appendage-based locomotor behaviors than has been previously recognized and existing terminology fails to accurately capture and describe this diversity. Second, despite recent efforts, the mechanisms that vertebrates use to modify locomotor behaviors in response to predictable and unpredictable locomotor challenges are still poorly understood. Third, while computer-based models and simulations facilitate a greater understanding of the kinetics and kinematics of movement in both extant and extinct animals, a universal, one-size-fits-all, predictive model of appendage-based movement in vertebrates remains elusive.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1235-1245
Number of pages11
JournalIntegrative and comparative biology
Volume62
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Plant Science

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