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Journal Article

Trabecular structure of the elbow reveals divergence in knuckle-walking biomechanical strategies of African apes


Kivell,  Tracy L.       
Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;

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Arias-Martorell, J., Zeininger, A., & Kivell, T. L. (2021). Trabecular structure of the elbow reveals divergence in knuckle-walking biomechanical strategies of African apes. Evolution, 75(11), 2959-2971. doi:10.1111/evo.14354.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0009-6B49-E
Abstract African apes engage in a distinct form of locomotion called knuckle-walking, but there is much ambiguity as to when and how this locomotor behavior evolved. This study aims to elucidate potential differences in knuckle-walking elbow posture and loading in African apes through the study of trabecular bone. Using a whole-epiphysis approach, we quantified variation in the trabecular structure of the distal humerus of chimpanzees, western lowland gorillas, and mountain gorillas in comparison to orang-utans, siamangs, and a sample of Old and New World monkeys. Results demonstrate differences in the distribution of trabecular bone within the distal humerus that are consistent across taxa that habitually use a flexed-elbow posture in comparison to those that use an extended elbow during locomotion. Western lowland gorillas show an extended-elbow pattern consistent with the straight forelimb position during knuckle-walking, whereas chimpanzees show a flexed-elbow pattern. Unexpectedly, mountain gorillas show an intermediate pattern between their western counterparts and chimpanzees. The differences found in elbow joint posture between chimpanzees and gorillas, and between gorilla species, point to diversification in the knuckle-walking biomechanical strategies among African apes, which has implications in the debate regarding the locomotor behavior from which human bipedalism arose.