Human beings have been credited with unparalleled capabilities for digital prehension grasping. However, grasping behaviour is widespread among tetrapods. The propensity to grasp, and the anatomical characteristics that underlie it, appear in all of the major groups of tetrapods with the possible exception of terrestrial turtles. Although some features are synapomorphic to the tetrapod clade, such as well-defined digits and digital musculature, other features, such as opposable digits and tendon configurations, appear to have evolved independently in many lineages. Here we examine the incidence, functional morphology, and evolution of grasping across four major tetrapod clades. Our review suggests that the ability to grasp with the manus and pes is considerably more widespread, and ecologically and evolutionarily important, than previously thought. The morphological bases and ecological factors that govern grasping abilities may differ among tetrapods, yet the selective forces shaping them are likely similar. We suggest that further investigation into grasping form and function within and among these clades may expose a greater role for grasping ability in the evolutionary success of many tetrapod lineages.
Accipiters (Accipiter spp.) and falcons (Falco spp.) both use their feet to seize prey, but falcons kill primarily with their beaks, whereas accipiters kill with their feet. This study examines the mechanistic basis to differences in their modes of dispatching prey, by focusing on the myology and biomechanics of the jaws, digits, and distal hindlimb. Bite, grip, and distal hindlimb flexion forces were estimated from measurements of physiological cross-sectional area (PCSA) and indices of mechanical advantage (MA) for the major jaw adductors, and digit and tarsometatarsal flexors. Estimated bite force, total jaw adductor PCSA, and jaw MA (averaged over adductors) tended to be relatively and absolutely greater in falcons, reflecting their emphasis on biting for dispatching their prey. Differences between genera in estimated grip force, total digit flexor PCSA, and digit MA (averaged over inter-phalangeal joints and digits) were not as clear-cut; each of these parameters scaled positively allometric in accipiters, which may reflect the scaling of both prey size, and the proportion of mammalian prey consumed by this lineage with increasing body size. Estimated tarsometatarsal force was greater in falcons than in accipiters, due to their greater MA, which may reflect selection for incurring greater forces during prey strikes. Conversely, the comparatively lower tarsometatarsal MA in accipiters reflects their capacity for greater foot speed potentially necessary for grasping elusive prey. Thus, this study elucidates how differences in jaw and hindlimb musculoskeletal morphology of accipiters and falcons are reflected in differences in their killing modes, and through differences in their force-generating capacities.
Raptors exhibit a diversity of strategies to procure their prey but ultimately kill using their beaks and/or talons. Thus, bite and grip forces are ecologically important variables that have direct survival implications. Whereas hawks rely primarily on their feet for killing prey, falcons tend to employ their beaks. Consequently, falcons are expected to achieve relatively greater bite forces, and hawks are expected to generate relatively greater grip forces. Force estimates predicted from musculoskeletal morphology in a previous study indicated that falcons (Falco spp.) possess greater jaw force capabilities than accipiters (Accipiter spp.) but there were no clear differences in predicted grip-force capacity outside of differences in scaling. The objective of this study was to complement those results with measurements of in vivo forces by inducing captive and wild accipiters and falcons to bite and grasp force transducers. Bite force increased isometrically in both groups whereas grip force tended toward positive allometry. After adjusting for body mass, falcons produced greater bite forces, and accipiters produced greater grip forces. Thus, previous anatomical estimates of forces predicted the expected direction and magnitude of differences in bite forces but the overall greater in vivo grip forces of accipiters deviated from the pattern obtained from biomechanical estimates. Although the scaling relationships were similar between data sets, forces generated by live birds were consistently lower than those predicted from biomechanics. Estimated and in vivo jaw and digital forces were nevertheless correlated, and therefore provide an important link between morphology and killing behavior in these raptors.The following sources provided funding for various parts of this project: CSU Northridge Office of Graduate Studies, Sigma Xi (CSUN Chapter), CSUN Bridges and Los Angeles Audubon Society. Special thanks to the following people and entities throughout the USA for access to live raptors: F. Chavez-Ramirez, D. Kim (Platte River Whooping Crane Trust, NE, USA), M. Hensley-Benton (ESA/FACT CSU Bakersfield, CA, USA), C. Carter (California Living Museum, Bakersfield, CA, USA), P. Triem and K. Stroud (Ojai Raptor Center, CA, USA), J. Smith, M. Neal, Z. Hurst, S. Johnson, N. MacKently, C. Neri, T. Hanks, B. Black, and G. Gould (Hawkwatch International, Inc., UT, USA), M. Setter (Lindsay Wildlife Museum, CA, USA) and M. Moreau. K. Vrongistinos provided valuable assistance with equipment outfitting and training. P. Sethi and S. Farley helped build force transducers. Discussions with M. Rubega, G. Yanega, T. Landberg and comments by A. Herrel, A. Rico-Guevara, J. Podos and an anonymous reviewer considerably improved this manuscript. All procedures were carried out in accordance with CSU Northridge IACUC guidelines (protocol #0304-006a)
The grasping capability of birds' feet is a hallmark of their evolution, but the mechanics of avian foot function are not well understood. Two evolutionary trends that contribute to the mechanical complexity of the avian foot are the variation in the relative lengths of the phalanges and the subdivision and variation of the digital flexor musculature observed among taxa. We modelled the grasping behaviour of a simplified bird foot in response to the downward and upward forces imparted by carrying and perching tasks, respectively. Specifically, we compared the performance of various foot geometries performing these tasks when actuated by distally inserted flexors only, versus by both distally inserted and proximally inserted flexors. Our analysis demonstrates that most species possess relative phalanx lengths that are conducive to grasps actuated only by a single distally inserted tendon per digit. Furthermore, proximally inserted flexors are often required during perching, but the distally inserted flexors are sufficient when grasping and carrying objects. These results are reflected in differences in the relative development of proximally and distally inserted digital flexor musculature among ‘perching’ and ‘grasping’ taxa. Thus, our results shed light on the relative roles of variation in phalanx length and digit flexor muscle distribution in an integrative, mechanical context.
We undertook a 2-year (2002)(2003)(2004) mark-recapture study to investigate demographic performance and habitat use of salt marsh harvest mice (Reithrodontomys raviventris halicoetes) in the Suisun Marsh. We examined the effects of different wetland types and microhabitats on 3 demographic variables: density, reproductive potential, and persistence. Our results indicate that microhabitats dominated by mixed vegetation or pickleweed (Salicornia spp.) supported similar salt marsh harvest mouse densities, reproductive potential, and persistence throughout much of the year, whereas few salt marsh harvest mice inhabited upland grass-dominated microhabitats. We found that densities were higher in diked wetlands, whereas post-winter persistence was higher in tidal wetlands, and reproductive potential did not differ statistically between wetland types. Our results emphasize the importance of mixed vegetation for providing adequate salt marsh harvest mouse habitat and suggest that, despite their physiognomic and hydrological differences, both diked and tidal wetlands support salt marsh harvest mouse populations by promoting different demographic attributes. We recommend that habitat management, restoration, and enhancement efforts include areas containing mixed vegetation in addition to pickleweed in both diked and tidal wetlands.
The Monk Parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus) commonly uses utility poles as a substrate for building large, bulky nests. These nests often cause fires and electric power outages, creating public safety risks and increasing liability and maintenance costs for electric companies. Previous research has focused on lethal methods and chemical contraception to prevent nesting on utility poles and electrical substations. However, implementation of lethal methods has led to public protests and lawsuits, while chemical contraception may affect other than the targeted species, and must be continually reapplied for effectiveness. One non-lethal alternative, nest removal, is costly and may not be a sustainable measure if Monk Parakeet populations continue to grow. In order to identify cost-effective non-lethal solutions to problems caused by Monk Parakeet nesting, we studied their behavior as they built nests on utility poles. Monk Parakeets initiate nests by attaching sticks at the intersection of the pole and electric lines. We found that parakeets use the electric lines exclusively to gain access to the intersection of lines and pole during nest initiation, and continue to use the lines intensively throughout construction. Monk Parakeets also have more difficulty attaching sticks during the early stages of nest construction than when the nest is nearing completion. These findings suggest that intervention during the earlier stages of nest building, by excluding Monk Parakeets from electric lines adjacent to poles, may be an effective, non-lethal method of reducing or eliminating parakeets nesting on, and damaging, utility poles.
Herein, we compare functional muscle properties among convergent forms of large, obligate avian scavengers. We performed quantitative analyses of all the muscle masses and cross‐sectional areas (CSA) of the wings and hindlimbs of five species from two families, Cathartidae (New World vultures; Cathartes aura and Vultur gryphus) and Accipitridae (Old World vultures and raptors; Gyps africanus, Aquila rapax, and Buteo lineatus). These species comprise two paraphyletic functional groups, raptors (Aquila and Buteo) and vultures (Gyps, Cathartes, and Vultur). Our ordination analyses based on all of the muscles of the wings, hindlimbs, and wing and hindlimb muscles combined produced patterns that appeared to be more related to phylogeny, with a hint of a functional signal in wing muscle CSA. However, when wing muscles were grouped according to their functional roles (upstroke, downstroke, and wing stabilization), the percentages of mass and CSA allocated to the upstroke and stabilizing muscles were 1.4–5% greater in the vultures than in the raptors. Conversely, when hindlimb muscles were grouped according to their roles in grasping and terrestrial locomotion, the percentages of mass and CSA allocated to grasping muscles were 5.9–14% greater in the raptors. Our results provide a baseline for future lines of inquiry aimed at understanding how muscle mass and CSA are affected differentially across locomotor modules, possibly in response to differential demands on wing and hindlimb function experienced by these disparate accipitriform clades.
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