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J Hum Evol. 2005 Jan;48(1):25-44. Epub 2004 Dec 9.

The metabolic costs of 'bent-hip, bent-knee' walking in humans.

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Equine Unit, Warwickshire College, Moreton Morell, Warwick, Warwickshire CV35 9BL.


The costs of different modes of bipedalism are a key issue in reconstructing the likely gait of early human ancestors such as Australopithecus afarensis. Some workers, on the basis of morphological differences between the locomotor skeleton of A. afarensis and modern humans, have proposed that this hominid would have walked in a 'bent-hip, bent-knee' (BHBK) posture like that seen in the voluntary bipedalism of untrained chimpanzees. Computer modelling studies using inverse dynamics indicate that on the basis of segment proportions AL-288-1 should have been capable of mechanically effective upright walking, but in contrast predicted that BHBK walking would have been highly ineffective. The measure most pertinent to natural selection, however, is more likely to be the complete, physiological, or metabolic energy cost. We cannot measure this parameter in a fossil. This paper presents the most complete investigation yet of the metabolic and thermoregulatory costs of BHBK walking in humans. Data show that metabolic costs including the basal metabolic rate (BMR) increase by around 50% while the energy costs of locomotion and blood lactate production nearly double, heat load is increased, and core temperature does not return to normal within 20 minutes rest. Net effects imply that a resting period of 150% activity time would be necessary to prevent physiologically intolerable heat load. Preliminary data for children suggest that scaling effects would not significantly reduce relative costs for hominids of AL-288-1's size. Data from recent studies using forwards dynamic modelling confirm that similar total (including BMR) and locomotor metabolic costs would have applied to BHBK walking by AL-288-1. We explore some of the ecological consequences of our findings.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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