comparative animal locomotion

The biological diversity exhibited in limbed animals offers a wealth of information that can lead to major new, and often unpredicted, discoveries that are not possible from studying humans alone. In our lab we employ a novel research framework spanning both human and other terrestrial species.

Bird locomotion:

ostrich3DBirds are the only other taxa that have evolved habitual bipedalism, and are thus an excellent (albeit much less studied) source for probing the relationships between the morphology, biomechanics and physiology of moving on two legs. They may even teach us a thing or two about how to better engineer legged robots and prosthetics.

We have use standard metabolic measurement techniques and kinematic analyses to test questions regarding the general relationships between gait mechanics and energy use. We have showed that minimization of energy use explains gait and speed selection in emus and ostriches (the two largest bird species), and thus likely represents a general principle of bipedalism.

Ostrich with reflective marker
sets for 3D motion capture

Emu running over force plate- Cal Poly, Pomona, CA. Video courtesy Rich Marsh and Don Hoyt

We have borrowed from human biomechanics techniques to study the detailed three-dimensional joint function in walking and running ostriches. 3D inverse dynamics techniques have helped reveal the features of limb structure related to economical running in this species (and possibly other cursorial animals).

 3D model of an ostrich running       

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Kangaroo locomotion:

Together with colleagues from the Royal Veterinary College, London (John Hutchinson, Alexis Wiktotowicz), The University of Queensland (Glen Lichtwark) and The University of Idaho (Craig McGowan) we have been studying the effect of body size on macropod locomotion and the scaling of limb mechanical advantage.


Kangaroo motion capture 

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Associated Publications:

Rubenson, J., Heliams, B.D., Besier, T.F.,Lloyd, D.A., and Fournier, P.A. (2011) Adaptations for economical running: the effect of bipedal limb structure on 3-D joint mechanics. J. R. Soc. Interface. 8: 740-755. (PDF).

Watson, R.R., Rubenson, J., Coder, L., Hoyt, D.F., Propert, M.W.G. and Marsh, R.L. (2011) Gait-specific energetics contribues to economical walking and running in emus and ostriches. Proc. R. Soc. B. 278: 2040-2046. (PDF).

Rubenson, J., and Marsh, R.L. (2009) Mechanical efficiency of limb-swing during walking and running in guineafowl (Numida meleagris). J. Appl. Physiol. 106: 1618 – 1630. (PDF)

Rubenson, J., Besier, T.F., Heliams, B.D., Lloyd, D.G., and Fournier, P.A. (2007). Running in ostriches (Struthio camelus): three-dimensional joint axes alignment and joint kinematics. J. Exp. Biol. 210: 2548-2562 (PDF).

Rubenson, J., Henry, H.T., Dimoulas, P.M. and Marsh, R.L. (2006). The cost of running uphill: linking organismal and muscle energy use in guinea fowl Numida meleagris. J. Exp. Biol. 209: 2395-2408. (PDF).

Marsh, R.L., Ellerby, D.J., Henry, H.T. and Rubenson, J. (2006). The energetic cost of trunk and distal limb loading during walking and running in guinea fowl Numida meleagris. I. Organismal metabolism and biomechanics. J. Exp. Biol. 209: 2050-2063. (PDF).

Rubenson, J., Heliams, B.D., Lloyd, D.G., and Fournier, P.A. (2004). Gait selection in the ostrich: mechanical and metabolic characteristics of walking and running with and without an aerial phase. Proc. R. Soc. B. 271: 1091 – 1099. (PDF).

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The University of Western Australia