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From a science blog:
Integrative physiologist Monica Daley of the Royal Veterinary College
(RVC) in Hatfield, U.K., had observed how adeptly the guinea fowl, an
African bird known for its running skill, negotiated sudden drops and
other obstacles. She wondered how the shape of an animal's body and the
nature of the terrain-details left out of earlier simulations because
they're difficult to model-would alter the models' predictions. So she and
RVC colleague James Usherwood devised a computer model that didn't
sidestep the complexities of animal motion. Instead of attaching legs to
an idealized point with a certain mass, the new model linked them to a
bouncing body-the seesawing guts and other tissue an animal carries as it
moves-and set them on an uneven course.
As Daley expected, the less-idealized runners fared better on compliant
legs. The spring in their step offset the bounce of their bodies,
resulting in a smaller energy cost. "That's interesting and quite novel,"
says biomechanist Manoj Srinivasan of OhioStateUniversity in Columbus, who
was not involved with the research.
Compliant legs also enabled runners to handle bigger obstacles without
falling, an especially useful adaptation for the rough world in which
smaller animals live, Daley explains.
"What I want to do now is go out and measure this in real animals," says
Daley. She plans to apply the model, published online today in Biology Letters,
to a spectrum of running birds ranging from quails to ostriches.
I hesitate to suggest she do her research using snowboarders who
also exhibit these traits as I'm trying to eliminate the notion that
snowboarders are animals!
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