Dynamics of mallard (Anas platyrynchos) gastrocnemius function during swimming versus terrestrial locomotion

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This study investigates how the contractile function of a muscle may be modulated to accommodate changes in locomotor mode and differences in the physical environment. In vivo recordings of lateral gastrocnemius (LG) activation, force development (measured using tendon buckle transducers) and length change (measured using sonomicrometry) were obtained from mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos) as they swam at steady speeds in a water tank and walked or ran on land. LG force recordings were compared with combined lateral and medial gastrocnemius (MG) muscle-tendon force recordings obtained from the contralateral limb, allowing force development by the MG to be estimated relative to that of the LG. Although similar stresses were calculated to act in the LG and MG muscles during terrestrial locomotion (126 and 115 kPa, respectively), stresses were considerably greater in the LG compared with the MG during swimming (62 versus 34 kPa, respectively). During both steady swimming and terrestrial locomotion, the LG developed force while shortening over a considerable range of its length (swimming 23.6 % versus terrestrial 37.4 %). Activation of the muscle occurred near the end of passive lengthening during the recovery stroke, just prior to muscle shortening. As a result, the muscle generated broad positive work loops during both locomotor modes. LG work during swimming (4.8 J x kg(-1)) averaged 37 % of the work performed during terrestrial locomotion (13.1 J x kg(-1)), consistent with the twofold greater force and 58 % greater strain of the muscle during walking and running. Because limb cycle frequency was similar for the two locomotor modes (swimming 2.65 versus terrestrial 2.61 Hz), differences in power output (swimming 12.6 W x kg(-1 )versus terrestrial 32.4 W x kg(-1)) largely reflected difference in work per cycle. Tendon elastic energy savings was a small fraction (<5 %) of the work performed by the muscle, consistent with a fiber-tendon design of these two muscles that favors muscle work to produce limb movement with little tendon strain. These results are consistent with a higher cost of terrestrial locomotion in ducks compared with other, more cursorial birds that may operate their muscles more economically and achieve greater tendon elastic savings.


Biewener, A ACorning, W RengResearch Support, Non-U.S. Gov'tResearch Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.England2001/04/24 10:00J Exp Biol. 2001 May;204(Pt 10):1745-56.