Ontogenetic changes in limb postures and their impact on effective limb length in baboons (Papio cynocephalus)

Angel Zeininger, Liza J. Shapiro, David A. Raichlen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Objectives: Digitigrade hand and foot postures and extended elbows and knees are considered adaptations to running in cursorial mammals because they increase effective limb lengths (ELLs). However, the relationship between digitigrady and ELL in primates is not well understood. We documented the ontogeny of limb postures in baboons to better understand the function of digitigrady during walking. We hypothesized that the hand and foot would become more elevated and the elbow and knee more extended, leading to increased relative ELLs throughout ontogeny. Materials and Methods: Longitudinal kinematic data were collected on four infant yellow baboons (Papio cynocephalus) as they aged from two to nine months, and again at two to three years. Hand/foot postures, elbow/knee angles, relative fore/hind limb ELLs, and dimensionless velocity were measured for 404 symmetrical walking strides. Results: Digitigrade hand and foot postures were preferred at all ages. The elbow extended slightly and the knee flexed slightly with age. Elevated proximal hands, extended elbows, and extended knees were associated with long relative ELLs. For a given age, relative hind limb ELL was longer than relative forelimb ELL. Discussion: In the forelimb, digitigrade hand postures and extended elbows function to increase relative ELL at slow walking velocity. Increased forelimb ELL may be an attempt to equalize forelimb and hind limb ELLs in baboons with an absolutely longer hind limb. Pedal digitigrady is not a main contributing factor to hind limb ELL. Results suggest that manual and pedal digitigrady in terrestrial cercopithecoids does not function to increase velocity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)231-241
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2017


  • digitigrady
  • foot
  • hand
  • primate locomotion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology


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