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Biol Lett. 2005 Mar 22;1(1):57-9.

Scaling of elastic energy storage in mammalian limb tendons: do small mammals really lose out?

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  • 1Department of Anatomy, University of Bristol, Southwell Street, Bristol BS2 8EJ, UK. sbullimore@kin.ucalgary.ca


It is widely believed that elastic energy storage is more important in the locomotion of larger mammals. This is based on: (a) comparison of kangaroos with the smaller kangaroo rat; and (b) calculations that predict that the capacity for elastic energy storage relative to body mass increases with size. Here we argue that: (i) data from kangaroos and kangaroo rats cannot be generalized to other mammals; (ii) the elastic energy storage capacity relative to body mass is not indicative of the importance of elastic energy to an animal; and (iii) the contribution of elastic energy to the mechanical work of locomotion will not increase as rapidly with size as the mass-specific energy storage capacity, because larger mammals must do relatively more mechanical work per stride. We predict how the ratio of elastic energy storage to mechanical work will change with size in quadrupedal mammals by combining empirical scaling relationships from the literature. The results suggest that the percentage contribution of elastic energy to the mechanical work of locomotion decreases with size, so that elastic energy is more important in the locomotion of smaller mammals. This now needs to be tested experimentally.

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