Gait selection in the ostrich: mechanical and metabolic characteristics of walking and running with and without an aerial phase

Abstract

It has been argued that minimization of metabolic–energy costs is a primary determinant of gait selection in terrestrial animals. This view is based predominantly on data from humans and horses, which have been shown to choose the most economical gait (walking, running, galloping) for any given speed. It is not certain whether a minimization of metabolic costs is associated with the selection of other prevalent forms of terrestrial gaits, such as grounded running (a widespread gait in birds). Using biomechanical and metabolic measurements of four ostriches moving on a treadmill over a range of speeds from 0.8 to 6.7 m s−1, we reveal here that the selection of walking or grounded running at intermediate speeds also favours a reduction in the metabolic cost of locomotion. This gait transition is characterized by a shift in locomotor kinetics from an inverted–pendulum gait to a bouncing gait that lacks an aerial phase. By contrast, when the ostrich adopts an aerial–running gait at faster speeds, there are no abrupt transitions in mechanical parameters or in the metabolic cost of locomotion. These data suggest a continuum between grounded and aerial running, indicating that they belong to the same locomotor paradigm.