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J Exp Biol. 2017 Dec 15;220(Pt 24):4612-4623. doi: 10.1242/jeb.159079.

The opercular mouth-opening mechanism of largemouth bass functions as a 3D four-bar linkage with three degrees of freedom.

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Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637, USA
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, USA.


The planar, one degree of freedom (1-DoF) four-bar linkage is an important model for understanding the function, performance and evolution of numerous biomechanical systems. One such system is the opercular mechanism in fishes, which is thought to function like a four-bar linkage to depress the lower jaw. While anatomical and behavioral observations suggest some form of mechanical coupling, previous attempts to model the opercular mechanism as a planar four-bar have consistently produced poor model fits relative to observed kinematics. Using newly developed, open source mechanism fitting software, we fitted multiple three-dimensional (3D) four-bar models with varying DoF to in vivo kinematics in largemouth bass to test whether the opercular mechanism functions instead as a 3D four-bar with one or more DoF. We examined link position error, link rotation error and the ratio of output to input link rotation to identify a best-fit model at two different levels of variation: for each feeding strike and across all strikes from the same individual. A 3D, 3-DoF four-bar linkage was the best-fit model for the opercular mechanism, achieving link rotational errors of less than 5%. We also found that the opercular mechanism moves with multiple degrees of freedom at the level of each strike and across multiple strikes. These results suggest that active motor control may be needed to direct the force input to the mechanism by the axial muscles and achieve a particular mouth-opening trajectory. Our results also expand the versatility of four-bar models in simulating biomechanical systems and extend their utility beyond planar or single-DoF systems.


3D kinematics; Biomechanical modeling; Cranial kinesis; Joint constraints; Model complexity; XROMM

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