OPEN PloS one | 18 Feb 2016
AS Willener, Y Handrich, LG Halsey and S Strike
Returning to the shore after a feeding sojourn at sea, king penguins often undertake a relatively long terrestrial journey to the breeding colony carrying a heavy, mostly frontal, accumulation of fat along with food in the stomach for chick-provisioning. There they must survive a fasting period of up to a month in duration, during which their complete reliance on endogenous energy stores results in a dramatic loss in body mass. Our aim was to determine if the king penguin’s walking gait changes with variations in body mass. We investigated this by walking king penguins on a treadmill while instrumented with an acceleration data logger. The stride frequency, dynamic body acceleration (DBA) and posture of fat (pre-fasting; 13.2 kg) and slim (post fasting; 11 kg) king penguins were assessed while they walked at the same speed (1.4km/h) on a treadmill. Paired statistical tests indicated no evidence for a difference in dynamic body acceleration or stride frequency between the two body masses however there was substantially less variability in both leaning angle and the leaning amplitude of the body when the birds were slimmer. Furthermore, there was some evidence that the slimmer birds exhibited a decrease in waddling amplitude. We suggest the increase in variability of both leaning angle and amplitude, as well as a possibly greater variability in the waddling amplitude, is likely to result from the frontal fat accumulation when the birds are heavier, which may move the centre of mass anteriorly, resulting in a less stable upright posture. This study is the first to use accelerometry to better understand the gait of a species within a specific ecological context: the considerable body mass change exhibited by king penguins.
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