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Dynamics of leg muscle function in tammar wallabies (M. eugenii) during level versus incline hopping
A. A. Biewener, C. McGowan, G. M. Card, R. V. Baudinette


The goal of our study was to examine whether the in vivo force-length behavior, work and elastic energy savings of distal muscle-tendon units in the legs of tammar wallabies (Macropus eugenii) change during level versus incline hopping. To address this question, we obtained measurements of muscle activation (via electromyography), fascicle strain (via sonomicrometry) and muscle-tendon force (via tendon buckles) from the lateral gastrocnemius (LG) and plantaris (PL) muscles of tammar wallabies trained to hop on a level and an inclined (10°, 17.4% grade) treadmill at two speeds (3.3 m s-1 and 4.2 m s-1). Similar patterns of muscle activation, force and fascicle strain were observed under both level and incline conditions. This also corresponded to similar patterns of limb timing and movement (duty factor, limb contact time and hopping frequency). During both level and incline hopping, the LG and PL exhibited patterns of fascicle stretch and shortening that yielded low levels of net fascicle strain [LG: level, -1.0±4.6% (mean ± s.e.m.) vs incline, 0.6±4.5%; PL: level, 0.1±1.0% vs incline, 0.4±1.6%] and muscle work (LG: level, -8.4±8.4 J kg-1 muscle vs incline, -6.8±7.5 J kg-1 muscle; PL: level, -2.0±0.6 J kg-1 muscle vs incline, -1.4±0.7 J kg-1 muscle). Consequently, neither muscle significantly altered its contractile dynamics to do more work during incline hopping. Whereas electromyographic (EMG) phase, duration and intensity did not differ for the LG, the PL exhibited shorter but more intense periods of activation, together with reduced EMG phase (P<0.01), during incline versus level hopping. Our results indicate that design for spring-like tendon energy savings and economical muscle force generation is key for these two distal muscle-tendon units of the tammar wallaby, and the need to accommodate changes in work associated with level versus incline locomotion is achieved by more proximal muscles of the limb.

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