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Forelimb bone curvature in terrestrial and arboreal mammals

Keith Henderson, Jess Pantinople, Kyle McCabe, Hazel L. Richards and Nick Milne

School of Anatomy, Physiology and Human Biology, University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

It has recently been proposed that the caudal curvature (concave caudal side) observed in the radioulna of terrestrial quadrupeds is an adaptation to the habitual action of the triceps muscle which causes cranial bending strains (compression on cranial side). The caudal curvature is proposed to be adaptive because longitudinal loading induces caudal bending strains (increased compression on the caudal side), and these opposing bending strains counteract each other leaving the radioulna less strained. If this is true for terrestrial quadrupeds, where triceps is required for habitual elbow extension, then we might expect that in arboreal species, where brachialis is habitually required to maintain elbow flexion, the radioulna should instead be cranially curved. This study measures sagittal curvature of the ulna in a range of terrestrial and arboreal primates and marsupials, and finds that their ulnae are curved in opposite directions in these two locomotor categories. This study also examines sagittal curvature in the humerus in the same species, and finds differences that can be attributed to similar adaptations: the bone is curved to counter the habitual muscle action required by the animal’s lifestyle, the difference being mainly in the distal part of the humerus, where arboreal animals tend have a cranial concavity, thought to be in response the carpal and digital muscles that pull cranially on the distal humerus.