Joint Loads in Marsupial Ankles Reflect Habitual Bipedalism versus Quadrupedalism
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Joint surfaces of limb bones are loaded in compression by reaction forces generated from body weight and musculotendon complexes bridging them. In general, joints of eutherian mammals have regions of high radiodensity subchondral bone that are better at resisting compressive forces than low radiodensity subchondral bone. Identifying similar form-function relationships between subchondral radiodensity distribution and joint load distribution within the marsupial postcranium, in addition to providing a richer understanding of marsupial functional morphology, can serve as a phylogenetic control in evaluating analogous relationships within eutherian mammals. Where commonalities are established across phylogenetic borders, unifying principles in mammalian physiology, morphology, and behavior can be identified. Here, we assess subchondral radiodensity patterns in distal tibiae of several marsupial taxa characterized by different habitual activities (e.g., locomotion). Computed tomography scanning, maximum intensity projection maps, and pixel counting were used to quantify radiodensity in 41 distal tibiae of bipedal (5 species), arboreal quadrupedal (4 species), and terrestrial quadrupedal (5 species) marsupials. Bipeds (Macropus and Wallabia) exhibit more expansive areas of high radiodensity in the distal tibia than arboreal (Dendrolagus, Phascolarctos, and Trichosurus) or terrestrial quadrupeds (Sarcophilus, Thylacinus, Lasiorhinus, and Vombatus), which may reflect the former carrying body weight only through the hind limbs. Arboreal quadrupeds exhibit smallest areas of high radiodensity, though they differ non-significantly from terrestrial quadrupeds. This could indicate slightly more compliant gaits by arboreal quadrupeds compared to terrestrial quadrupeds. The observed radiodensity patterns in marsupial tibiae, though their statistical differences disappear when controlling for phylogeny, corroborate previously documented patterns in primates and xenarthrans, potentially reflecting inferred limb use during habitual activities such as locomotion. Despite the complex nature of factors contributing to joint loads, broad observance of these patterns across joints and across a variety of taxa suggests that subchondral radiodensity can be used as a unifying form-function principle within Mammalia.
© 2013 Carlson mail et al. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License CCAL. (http://www.plos.org/journals/license.html)
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Archaeology