Aquatic and terrestrial takeoffs require different hindlimb kinematics and muscle function in mallard ducks


Mallard ducks are capable of performing a wide range of behaviors including nearly vertical takeoffs from both terrestrial and aquatic habitats. The hindlimb plays a key role during takeoffs from both media. However, because force generation differs in water versus on land, hindlimb kinematics and muscle function are likely modulated between these environments. Specifically, we hypothesize that hindlimb joint motion and muscle shortening are faster during aquatic takeoffs, but greater hindlimb muscle forces are generated during terrestrial takeoffs. In this study, we examined the hindlimb kinematics and in vivo contractile function of the lateral gastrocnemius (LG), a major ankle extensor and knee flexor, during takeoffs from water versus land in mallard ducks. In contrast to our hypothesis, we observed no change in ankle angular velocity between media. However, the hip and metatarsophalangeal joints underwent large excursions during terrestrial takeoffs but exhibited almost no motion during aquatic takeoffs. The knee extended during terrestrial takeoffs but flexed during aquatic takeoffs. Correspondingly, LG fascicle shortening strain, shortening velocity and pennation angle change were greater during aquatic takeoffs than during terrestrial takeoffs because of the differences in knee motion. Nevertheless, we observed no significant differences in LG stress or work, but did see an increase in muscle power output during aquatic takeoffs. Because differences in the physical properties of aquatic and terrestrial media require differing hindlimb kinematics and muscle function, animals such as mallards may be challenged to tune their muscle properties for movement across differing environments.

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Last updated on 07/14/2021