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Tail use improves performance on soft substrates in models of early vertebrate land locomotors

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Science  08 Jul 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6295, pp. 154-158
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf0984

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Abstract

In the evolutionary transition from an aquatic to a terrestrial environment, early tetrapods faced the challenges of terrestrial locomotion on flowable substrates, such as sand and mud of variable stiffness and incline. The morphology and range of motion of appendages can be revealed in fossils; however, biological and robophysical studies of modern taxa have shown that movement on such substrates can be sensitive to small changes in appendage use. Using a biological model (the mudskipper), a physical robot model, granular drag measurements, and theoretical tools from geometric mechanics, we demonstrate how tail use can improve robustness to variable limb use and substrate conditions. We hypothesize that properly coordinated tail movements could have provided a substantial benefit for the earliest vertebrates to move on land.

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