Scaling of Inertial Delays in Terrestrial Mammals

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As part of its response to a perturbation, an animal often needs to reposition its body. Inertia acts to oppose the corrective motion, delaying the completion of the movement—we refer to this elapsed time as inertial delay. As animal size increases, muscle moment arms also increase, but muscles are proportionally weaker, and limb inertia is proportionally larger. Consequently, the scaling of inertial delays is complex. Our intent is to determine how quickly different sized animals can produce corrective movements when their muscles act at their force capacity, relative to the time within which those movements need to be performed. Here, we quantify inertial delay using two biomechanical models representing common scenarios in animal locomotion: a distributed mass pendulum approximating swing limb repositioning (swing task), and an inverted pendulum approximating whole body posture recovery (posture task). We parameterized the anatomical, muscular, and inertial properties of these models using literature scaling relationships, then determined inertial delay for each task across a large range of movement magnitudes and the full range of terrestrial mammal sizes. We found that inertial delays scaled with an average of M0.28 in the swing task and M0.35 in the posture task across movement magnitudes—larger animals require more absolute time to perform the same movement as small animals. The time available to complete a movement also increases with animal size, but less steeply. Consequently, inertial delays comprise a greater fraction of swing duration and other characteristic movement times in larger animals. We also compared inertial delays to the other component delays within the stimulus-response pathway. As movement magnitude increased, inertial delays exceeded these sensorimotor delays, and this occurred for smaller movements in larger animals. Inertial delays appear to be a challenge for motor control, particularly for bigger movements in larger animals.
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Mohamed Thangal SN, Donelan JM (2020) Scaling of inertial delays in terrestrial mammals. PLoS ONE 15(2): e0217188. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0217188.
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Scaling of Inertial Delays in Terrestrial Mammals
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