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J Hum Evol. 2013 May;64(5):448-56. doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2013.01.014. Epub 2013 Mar 5.

Reproductive costs for everyone: how female loads impact human mobility strategies.

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Department of Biology, Seattle Pacific University, Suite 205, 3307 3rd Ave. West, Seattle, WA 98119-1997, USA.


While mobility strategies are considered important in understanding selection pressures on individuals, testing hypotheses of such strategies requires high resolution datasets, particularly at intersections between morphology, ecology and energetics. Here we present data on interactions between morphology and energetics in regards to the cost of walking for reproductive women and place these data into a specific ecological context of time and heat load. Frontal loads (up to 16% of body mass), as during pregnancy and child-carrying, significantly slow the optimal and preferred walking speed of women, significantly increase cost at the optimal speed, and make it significantly more costly for women to walk with other people. We further show for the first time significant changes in the curvature in the Cost of Transport curve for human walking, as driven by frontal loads. The impact of these frontal loads on females, and the populations to which they belong, would have been magnified by time constraints due to seasonal changes in day length at high latitudes and thermoregulatory limitations at low latitudes. However, wider pelves increase both stride length and speed flexibility, providing a morphological offset for load-related costs. Longer lower limbs also increase stride length. Observed differences between preferred and energetically optimal speeds with frontal loading suggest that speed choices of women carrying reproductive loads might be particularly sensitive to changes in heat load. Our findings show that female reproductive costs, particularly those related to locomotion, would have meaningfully shaped the mobility strategies of the hominin lineage, as well as modern foraging populations.

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