Animals that are specialized for a particular habitat or mode of locomotion often demonstrate locomotor efficiency in a focal environment when compared to a generalist species. However, measurements of these focal habitats or behaviors are often difficult or impossible to do in the field. In this study, the energetics and kinematics of simulated tunnel locomotion by two unrelated semi-fossorial mammals, the ferret and degu, were analyzed using open-flow respirometry and digital video. Animals were trained to move inside of normal (unconstrained, overground locomotion) and height-decreased (simulated tunnel, adjusted to tolerance limits for each species) Plexiglas chambers that were mounted flush onto a treadmill. Both absolute and relative tunnel performance differed between the species; ferrets tolerated a tunnel height that forced them to crouch at nearly 25% lower hip height than in an unconstrained condition, while degus would not perform on the treadmill past a ∼9% reduction in hip height. Both ferrets and degus exhibited significantly higher metabolic rates and cost of transport (CoT) values when moving in the tunnel condition relative to overgound locomotion. When comparing CoT values across small (<10kg) mammals, ferrets demonstrated a lower than predicted metabolic cost during both tunnel and terrestrial locomotion, whereas degus were very close to line of best fit. Although tunnel locomotion requires a more striking change in posture for ferrets, ferrets are more efficient locomotors in both conditions than mammals of similar mass.
- Received September 18, 2015.
- Accepted August 22, 2016.
- © 2016. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd