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Concept: Bipedalism


Birds still share many traits with their dinosaur ancestors, making them the best living group to reconstruct certain aspects of non-avian theropod biology. Bipedal, digitigrade locomotion and parasagittal hindlimb movement are some of those inherited traits. Living birds, however, maintain an unusually crouched hindlimb posture and locomotion powered by knee flexion, in contrast to the inferred primitive condition of non-avian theropods: more upright posture and limb movement powered by femur retraction. Such functional differences, which are associated with a gradual, anterior shift of the centre of mass in theropods along the bird line, make the use of extant birds to study non-avian theropod locomotion problematic. Here we show that, by experimentally manipulating the location of the centre of mass in living birds, it is possible to recreate limb posture and kinematics inferred for extinct bipedal dinosaurs. Chickens raised wearing artificial tails, and consequently with more posteriorly located centre of mass, showed a more vertical orientation of the femur during standing and increased femoral displacement during locomotion. Our results support the hypothesis that gradual changes in the location of the centre of mass resulted in more crouched hindlimb postures and a shift from hip-driven to knee-driven limb movements through theropod evolution. This study suggests that, through careful experimental manipulations during the growth phase of ontogeny, extant birds can potentially be used to gain important insights into previously unexplored aspects of bipedal non-avian theropod locomotion.

Concepts: Bird, Knee, Extinction, Locomotion, Dinosaur, Theropoda, Bipedalism, Archosaur


Laetoli is a well-known palaeontological locality in northern Tanzania whose outstanding record includes the earliest hominin footprints in the world (3.66 million years old), discovered in 1978 at Site G and attributed to Australopithecus afarensis. Here, we report hominin tracks unearthed in the new Site S at Laetoli and referred to two bipedal individuals (S1 and S2) moving on the same palaeosurface and in the same direction as the three hominins documented at Site G. The stature estimates for S1 greatly exceed those previously reconstructed for Au. afarensis from both skeletal material and footprint data. In combination with a comparative reappraisal of the Site G footprints, the evidence collected here embodies very important additions to the Pliocene record of hominin behaviour and morphology. Our results are consistent with considerable body size variation and, probably, degree of sexual dimorphism within a single species of bipedal hominins as early as 3.66 million years ago.

Concepts: Human, Australopithecus afarensis, Hominina, Bipedalism, Australopithecus, Australopithecus africanus, Ardipithecus, Laetoli


While there is broad agreement that early hominins practiced some form of terrestrial bipedality, there is also evidence that arboreal behavior remained a part of the locomotor repertoire in some taxa, and that bipedal locomotion may not have been identical to that of modern humans. It has been difficult to evaluate such evidence, however, because of the possibility that early hominins retained primitive traits (such as relatively long upper limbs) of little contemporaneous adaptive significance. Here we examine bone structural properties of the femur and humerus in the Australopithecus afarensis A.L. 288-1 (“Lucy”, 3.2 Myr) that are known to be developmentally plastic, and compare them with other early hominins, modern humans, and modern chimpanzees. Cross-sectional images were obtained from micro-CT scans of the original specimens and used to derive section properties of the diaphyses, as well as superior and inferior cortical thicknesses of the femoral neck. A.L. 288-1 shows femoral/humeral diaphyseal strength proportions that are intermediate between those of modern humans and chimpanzees, indicating more mechanical loading of the forelimb than in modern humans, and by implication, a significant arboreal locomotor component. Several features of the proximal femur in A.L. 288-1 and other australopiths, including relative femoral head size, distribution of cortical bone in the femoral neck, and cross-sectional shape of the proximal shaft, support the inference of a bipedal gait pattern that differed slightly from that of modern humans, involving more lateral deviation of the body center of mass over the support limb, which would have entailed increased cost of terrestrial locomotion. There is also evidence consistent with increased muscular strength among australopiths in both the forelimb and hind limb, possibly reflecting metabolic trade-offs between muscle and brain development during hominin evolution. Together these findings imply significant differences in both locomotor behavior and ecology between australopiths and later Homo.

Concepts: Human, Locomotion, Australopithecus afarensis, Hominina, Hominid, Bipedalism, Australopithecus, Ardipithecus


People have long speculated whether the evolution of bipedalism in early hominins triggered tool use (by freeing their hands) or whether the necessity of making and using tools encouraged the shift to upright gait. Either way, it is commonly thought that one led to the other. In this study, we sought to shed new light on the origins of manual dexterity and bipedalism by mapping the neural representations in the brain of the fingers and toes of living people and monkeys. Contrary to the ‘hand-in-glove’ notion outlined above, our results suggest that adaptations underlying tool use evolved independently of those required for human bipedality. In both humans and monkeys, we found that each finger was represented separately in the primary sensorimotor cortex just as they are physically separated in the hand. This reflects the ability to use each digit independently, as required for the complex manipulation involved in tool use. The neural mapping of the subjects' toes differed, however. In the monkeys, the somatotopic representation of the toes was fused, showing that the digits function predominantly as a unit in general grasping. Humans, by contrast, had an independent neurological representation of the big toe (hallux), suggesting association with bipedal locomotion. These observations suggest that the brain circuits for the hand had advanced beyond simple grasping, whereas our primate ancestors were still general arboreal quadrupeds. This early adaptation laid the foundation for the evolution of manual dexterity, which was preserved and enhanced in hominins. In hominins, a separate adaptation, involving the neural separation of the big toe, apparently occurred with bipedality. This accords with the known fossil evidence, including the recently reported hominin fossils which have been dated to 4.4 million years ago.

Concepts: Finger, Hand, Locomotion, Toe, Dinosaur, Hominina, Hominid, Bipedalism


Cursorial ground birds are paragons of bipedal running that span a 500-fold mass range from quail to ostrich. Here we investigate the task-level control priorities of cursorial birds by analysing how they negotiate single-step obstacles that create a conflict between body stability (attenuating deviations in body motion) and consistent leg force-length dynamics (for economy and leg safety). We also test the hypothesis that control priorities shift between body stability and leg safety with increasing body size, reflecting use of active control to overcome size-related challenges. Weight-support demands lead to a shift towards straighter legs and stiffer steady gait with increasing body size, but it remains unknown whether non-steady locomotor priorities diverge with size. We found that all measured species used a consistent obstacle negotiation strategy, involving unsteady body dynamics to minimise fluctuations in leg posture and loading across multiple steps, not directly prioritising body stability. Peak leg forces remained remarkably consistent across obstacle terrain, within 0.35 body weights of level running for obstacle heights from 0.1 to 0.5 times leg length. All species used similar stance leg actuation patterns, involving asymmetric force-length trajectories and posture-dependent actuation to add or remove energy depending on landing conditions. We present a simple stance leg model that explains key features of avian bipedal locomotion, and suggests economy as a key priority on both level and uneven terrain. We suggest that running ground birds target the closely coupled priorities of economy and leg safety as the direct imperatives of control, with adequate stability achieved through appropriately tuned intrinsic dynamics.

Concepts: Bird, Walking, Locomotion, Dinosaur, Bipedalism, Archosaur, Priority, Span and div


Many of the major locomotor transitions during the evolution of Archosauria, the lineage including crocodiles and birds as well as extinct Dinosauria, were shifts from quadrupedalism to bipedalism (and vice versa). Those occurred within a continuum between more sprawling and erect modes of locomotion and involved drastic changes of limb anatomy and function in several lineages, including sauropodomorph dinosaurs. We present biomechanical computer models of two locomotor extremes within Archosauria in an analysis of joint ranges of motion and the moment arms of the major forelimb muscles in order to quantify biomechanical differences between more sprawling, pseudosuchian (represented the crocodile Crocodylus johnstoni) and more erect, dinosaurian (represented by the sauropodomorph Mussaurus patagonicus) modes of forelimb function. We compare these two locomotor extremes in terms of the reconstructed musculoskeletal anatomy, ranges of motion of the forelimb joints and the moment arm patterns of muscles across those ranges of joint motion. We reconstructed the three-dimensional paths of 30 muscles acting around the shoulder, elbow and wrist joints. We explicitly evaluate how forelimb joint mobility and muscle actions may have changed with postural and anatomical alterations from basal archosaurs to early sauropodomorphs. We thus evaluate in which ways forelimb posture was correlated with muscle leverage, and how such differences fit into a broader evolutionary context (i.e. transition from sprawling quadrupedalism to erect bipedalism and then shifting to graviportal quadrupedalism). Our analysis reveals major differences of muscle actions between the more sprawling and erect models at the shoulder joint. These differences are related not only to the articular surfaces but also to the orientation of the scapula, in which extension/flexion movements in Crocodylus (e.g. protraction of the humerus) correspond to elevation/depression in Mussaurus. Muscle action is highly influenced by limb posture, more so than morphology. Habitual quadrupedalism in Mussaurus is not supported by our analysis of joint range of motion, which indicates that glenohumeral protraction was severely restricted. Additionally, some active pronation of the manus may have been possible in Mussaurus, allowing semi-pronation by a rearranging of the whole antebrachium (not the radius against the ulna, as previously thought) via long-axis rotation at the elbow joint. However, the muscles acting around this joint to actively pronate it may have been too weak to drive or maintain such orientations as opposed to a neutral position in between pronation and supination. Regardless, the origin of quadrupedalism in Sauropoda is not only linked to manus pronation but also to multiple shifts of forelimb morphology, allowing greater flexion movements of the glenohumeral joint and a more columnar forelimb posture.

Concepts: Humerus, Biceps brachii muscle, Joints, Shoulder, Dinosaur, Bipedalism, Archosaur, Prosauropoda


Birth mechanics in early hominins are often reconstructed based on cephalopelvic proportions, with little attention paid to neonatal shoulders. Here, we find that neonatal biacromial breadth can be estimated from adult clavicular length (R(2) = 0.80) in primates. Using this relationship and clavicular length from adult Australopithecus afarensis, we estimate biacromial breadth in neonatal australopiths. Combined with neonatal head dimensions, we reconstruct birth in A. afarensis (A.L. 288-1 or Lucy) and find that the most likely mechanism of birth in this early hominin was a semi-rotational oblique birth in which the head engaged and passed through the inlet transversely, but then rotated so that the head and shoulders remained perpendicular and progressed through the midplane and outlet oblique to the main axis of the female pelvis. Any other mechanism of birth, including asynclitic birth, would have resulted in either the head or the shoulders orthogonal to the short anteroposterior dimension of the A.L. 288-1 pelvis, making birth untenable. There is a tight fit between the infant and all planes of the birth canal, perhaps suggesting a difficult labor in australopiths. However, the rotational birth mechanism of large-brained humans today was likely not characteristic of A. afarensis. Thus, the evolution of rotational birth, usually associated with encephalization, may have occurred in two stages: the first appeared with the origin of the australopiths with their platypelloid pelves adapted for bipedalism and their broad-shouldered neonates; the second which resulted in the modern mechanism of rotational birth may be associated with increasing brain size in the genus Homo. Anat Rec, 300:890-899, 2017. © 2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Concepts: Childbirth, Infant, Human, Australopithecus afarensis, Hominina, Bipedalism, Australopithecus, Australopithecus africanus


A newly discovered partial hominin foot skeleton from eastern Africa indicates the presence of more than one hominin locomotor adaptation at the beginning of the Late Pliocene epoch. Here we show that new pedal elements, dated to about 3.4 million years ago, belong to a species that does not match the contemporaneous Australopithecus afarensis in its morphology and inferred locomotor adaptations, but instead are more similar to the earlier Ardipithecus ramidus in possessing an opposable great toe. This not only indicates the presence of more than one hominin species at the beginning of the Late Pliocene of eastern Africa, but also indicates the persistence of a species with Ar. ramidus-like locomotor adaptation into the Late Pliocene.

Concepts: Giraffe, Pliocene, Australopithecus afarensis, Hominina, Bipedalism, Australopithecus, Australopithecus africanus, Ardipithecus


Quadrupedality evolved four independent times in dinosaurs; however, the constraints associated with these transitions in limb anatomy and function remain poorly understood, in particular the evolution of forearm posture and rotational ability (i.e., active pronation and supination). Results of previous qualitative studies are inconsistent, likely due to an inability to quantitatively assess the likelihood of their conclusions. We attempt to quantify antebrachial posture and mobility using the radius bone because its morphology is distinct between extant sprawled taxa with a limited active pronation ability and parasagittal taxa that have an enhanced ability to actively pronate the manus. We used a sliding semi-landmark, outline-based geometric morphometric approach of the proximal radial head and a measurement of the angle of curvature of the radius in a sample of 189 mammals, 49 dinosaurs, 35 squamates, 16 birds, and 5 crocodilians. Our results of radial head morphology showed that quadrupedal ceratopsians, bipedal non-hadrosaurid ornithopods, and theropods had limited pronation/supination ability, and sauropodomorphs have unique radial head morphology that likely allowed limited rotational ability. However, the curvature of the radius showed that no dinosaurian clade had the ability to cross the radius about the ulna, suggesting parallel antebrachial elements for all quadrupedal dinosaurs. We conclude that the bipedal origins of all quadrupedal dinosaur clades could have allowed for greater disparity in forelimb posture than previously appreciated, and future studies on dinosaur posture should not limit their classifications to the overly simplistic extant dichotomy.

Concepts: Bird, Ulna, Reptile, Forearm, Dinosaur, Bipedalism, Iguanodon, Archosaur


Since 2005, an extensive literature documents individuals from several families afflicted with “Uner Tan Syndrome (UTS),” a condition that in its most extreme form is characterized by cerebellar hypoplasia, loss of balance and coordination, impaired cognitive abilities, and habitual quadrupedal gait on hands and feet. Some researchers have interpreted habitual use of quadrupedalism by these individuals from an evolutionary perspective, suggesting that it represents an atavistic expression of our quadrupedal primate ancestry or “devolution.” In support of this idea, individuals with “UTS” are said to use diagonal sequence quadrupedalism, a type of quadrupedal gait that distinguishes primates from most other mammals. Although the use of primate-like quadrupedal gait in humans would not be sufficient to support the conclusion of evolutionary “reversal,” no quantitative gait analyses were presented to support this claim. Using standard gait analysis of 518 quadrupedal strides from video sequences of individuals with “UTS”, we found that these humans almost exclusively used lateral sequence-not diagonal sequence-quadrupedal gaits. The quadrupedal gait of these individuals has therefore been erroneously described as primate-like, further weakening the “devolution” hypothesis. In fact, the quadrupedalism exhibited by individuals with UTS resembles that of healthy adult humans asked to walk quadrupedally in an experimental setting. We conclude that quadrupedalism in healthy adults or those with a physical disability can be explained using biomechanical principles rather than evolutionary assumptions.

Concepts: Human, Mammal, Primate, Disability, Gait, Locomotion, Bipedalism, Quadrupedalism