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J Hum Evol. 2005 Oct;49(4):415-31.

Effects of limb mass distribution on the ontogeny of quadrupedalism in infant baboons (Papio cynocephalus) and implications for the evolution of primate quadrupedalism.

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  • 1Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, 11 Divinity Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138, USA. raichlen@fas.harvard.edu


Primate quadrupedal kinematics differ from those of other mammals. Several researchers have suggested that primate kinematics are adaptive for safe travel in an arboreal, small-branch niche. This study tests a compatible hypothesis that primate kinematics are related to their limb mass distribution patterns. Primates have more distally concentrated limb mass than most other mammals due to their grasping hands and feet. Experimental studies have shown that increasing distal limb mass by adding weights to the limbs of humans and dogs influences kinematics. Adding weights to distal limb elements increases the natural period of a limb's oscillation, leading to relatively long swing and stride durations. It is therefore possible that primates' distal limb mass is responsible for some of their unique kinematics. This hypothesis was tested using a longitudinal ontogenetic sample of infant baboons (Papio cynocephalus). Because limb mass distribution changes with age in infant primates, this project examined how these changes influence locomotor kinematics within individuals. The baboons in this sample showed a shift in their kinematics as their limb mass distributions changed during ontogeny. When their limb mass was most distally concentrated (at young ages), stride frequencies were relatively low, stride lengths were relatively long, and stance durations were relatively long compared to older ages when limb mass was more proximally concentrated. These results suggest that the evolution of primate quadrupedal kinematics was tied to the evolution of grasping hands and feet.

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