Musculoskeletal modelling of an ostrich (Struthio camelus) pelvic limb: Influence of limb orientation onmuscular capacity during locomotion

J.R. Hutchinson, J.W. Rankin, Jonas Rubenson, K.H. Rosenbluth, R.A. Siston, S.L. Delp

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    72 Citations (Scopus)


    © 2015 Hutchinson et al. We developed a three-dimensional, biomechanical computer model of the 36 major pelvic limb muscle groups in an ostrich (Struthio camelus) to investigate muscle function in this, the largest of extant birds and model organism for many studies of locomotor mechanics, body size, anatomy and evolution. Combined with experimental data, we use this model to test two main hypotheses. We first query whether ostriches use limb orientations (joint angles) that optimize the moment-generating capacities of their muscles during walking or running. Next, we test whether ostriches use limb orientations at mid-stance that keep their extensor muscles near maximal, and flexor muscles near minimal, moment arms. Our two hypotheses relate to the control priorities that a large bipedal animal might evolve under biomechanical constraints to achieve more effective static weight support. We find that ostriches do not use limb orientations to optimize the moment-generating capacities or moment arms of their muscles.We infer that dynamic properties ofmuscles or tendons might be better candidates for locomotor optimization. Regardless, general principles explaining why species choose particular joint orientations during locomotion are lacking, raising the question of whether such general principles exist or if clades evolve different patterns (e.g., weighting of muscle force-length or force-velocity properties in selecting postures). This leaves theoretical studies of muscle moment arms estimated for extinct animals at an impasse until studies of extant taxa answer these questions. Finally, we compare our model's results against those of two prior studies of ostrich limb muscle moment arms, finding general agreement for many muscles. Some flexor and extensor muscles exhibit self-stabilization patterns (posture-dependent switches between flexor/extensor action) that ostriches may use to coordinate their locomotion. However, some conspicuous areas of disagreement in our results illustrate some cautionary principles. Importantly, tendon-travel empirical measurements ofmuscle moment arms must be carefully designed to preserve 3D muscle geometry lest their accuracy suffer relative to that of anatomically realistic models. The dearth of accurate experimental measurements of 3D moment arms ofmuscles in birds leaves uncertainty regarding the relative accuracy of different modelling or experimental datasets such as in ostriches. Our model, however, provides a comprehensive set of 3D estimates ofmuscle actions in ostriches for the first time, emphasizing that avian limb mechanics are highly three-dimensional and complex, and how nomuscles act purely in the sagittal plane. A comparative synthesis of experiments and models such as ours could provide powerful synthesis into how anatomy, mechanics and control interact during locomotion and how these interactions evolve. Such a framework could remove obstacles impeding the analysis ofmuscle function in extinct taxa.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)e1001
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 2015


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