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J Exp Biol. 2019 Mar 21;222(Pt 6). pii: jeb189654. doi: 10.1242/jeb.189654.

Moving in complex environments: a biomechanical analysis of locomotion on inclined and narrow substrates.

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School of Science and Engineering, University of the Sunshine Coast, Maroochydore, QLD 4558, Australia
School of Biological Sciences, University of Queensland, St Lucia, QLD 4072, Australia.
School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Queensland, St Lucia, QLD 4072 , Australia.
School of Science and Engineering, University of the Sunshine Coast, Maroochydore, QLD 4558, Australia.


Characterisation of an organism's performance in different habitats provides insight into the conditions that allow it to survive and reproduce. In recent years, the northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus) - a medium-sized semi-arboreal marsupial native to northern Australia - has undergone significant population declines within open forest, woodland and riparian habitats, but less so in rocky areas. To help understand this decline, we quantified the biomechanical performance of wild northern quolls as they ran up inclined narrow (13 mm pole) and inclined wide (90 mm platform) substrates. We predicted that quolls may possess biomechanical adaptations to increase stability on narrow surfaces, which are more common in rocky habitats. Our results showed that quolls have some biomechanical characteristics consistent with a stability advantage on narrow surfaces. This includes the coupled use of limb pairs, as indicated via a decrease in footfall time, and an ability to produce corrective torques to counteract the toppling moments commonly encountered during gait on narrow surfaces. However, speed was constrained on narrow surfaces, and quolls did not adopt diagonal sequence gaits, unlike true arboreal specialists such as primates. In comparison with key predators, such as cats and dogs, northern quolls appear inferior in terrestrial environments but have a stability advantage at higher speeds on narrow supports. This may partially explain the heterogeneous declines in northern quoll populations among various habitats on mainland Australia.


Kinematics; Kinetics; Northern quoll; Performance; Substrate reaction force; Torque

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Conflict of interest statement

Competing interestsThe authors declare no competing or financial interests.

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