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The Company of Biologists Ltd


Limb postures of terrestrial tetrapods span a continuum from sprawling to fully upright; however, most experimental investigations of locomotor mechanics have focused on mammals and ground-dwelling birds that employ parasagittal limb kinematics, leaving much of the diversity of tetrapod locomotor mechanics unexplored. This study reports measurements of in vivo locomotor strain from the limb bones of lizard (Iguana iguana) and crocodilian (Alligator mississippiensis) species, animals from previously unsampled phylogenetic lineages with non-parasagittal limb posture and kinematics. Principal strain orientations and shear strain magnitudes indicate that the limb bones of these species experience considerable torsion during locomotion. This contrasts with patterns commonly observed in mammals, but matches predictions from kinematic observations of axial rotation in lizard and crocodilian limbs. Comparisons of locomotor load magnitudes with the mechanical properties of limb bones in Alligator and Iguana indicate that limb bone safety factors in bending for these species range from 5.5 to 10.8, as much as twice as high as safety factors previously calculated for mammals and birds. Limb bone safety factors in shear (3.9-5.4) for Alligator and Iguana are also moderately higher than safety factors to yield in bending for birds and mammals. Finally, correlations between limb posture and strain magnitudes in Alligator show that at some recording locations limb bone strains can increase during upright locomotion, in contrast to expectations based on size-correlated changes in posture among mammals that limb bone strains should decrease with the use of an upright posture. These data suggest that, in some lineages, strain magnitudes may not have been maintained at constant levels through the evolution of a non-sprawling posture unless the postural change was accompanied by a shift to parasagittal kinematics or by an evolutionary decrease in body size.


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