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The Company of Biologists Ltd


Turtles use their limbs during both aquatic and terrestrial locomotion, but water and land impose dramatically different physical requirements. How must musculoskeletal function be adjusted to produce locomotion through such physically disparate habitats? We addressed this question by quantifying forelimb kinematics and muscle activity during aquatic and terrestrial locomotion in a generalized freshwater turtle, the red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta), using digital high-speed video and electromyography (EMG). Comparisons of our forelimb data to previously collected data from the slider hindlimb allow us to test whether limb muscles with similar functional roles show qualitatively similar modulations of activity across habitats. The different functional demands of water and air lead to a prediction that muscle activity for limb protractors (e.g. latissimus dorsi and deltoid for the forelimb) should be greater during swimming than during walking, and activity in retractors (e.g. coracobrachialis and pectoralis for the forelimb) should be greater during walking than during swimming. Differences between aquatic and terrestrial forelimb movements are reflected in temporal modulation of muscle activity bursts between environments, and in some cases the number of EMG bursts as well. Although patterns of modulation between water and land are similar between the fore- and hindlimb in T. scripta for propulsive phase muscles (retractors), we did not find support for the predicted pattern of intensity modulation, suggesting that the functional demands of the locomotor medium alone do not dictate differences in intensity of muscle activity across habitats.


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