I attended a really great session this afternoon on the Evolutionary Physiology of Locomotor Behavior: Causes, Consequences, and Mechanisms.
The session started with a talk by Dr. David Raichlin from the University of Southern California who spoke about locomotion from a human perspective. He described how locomotion is not only essential for the survival of species, but also provides benefits for the aging brain. It was fascinating to learn that great apes only take about 1000-2000 steps/day whereas modern humans walk about 5000-7000 steps/day. Although, that is rather sedentary in comparison to a modern hunter/gatherer group that walks about 18,000 steps/day. The physiology of an organism, including humans, adapts to changing levels of physical activity including beneficial changes in cardiovascular and respiratory function, muscle metabolism, bone, etc. In addition, the brain appears to benefit from increased physical activity through changes in the endocannabinoid system, which is associated with reduced pain, improved mood, and decreased risk of dementia.
The next talk, given by Dr. Matthew Fuxjager at Brown University, focused on how sexual selection in birds alters muscle performance and specialization to create elaborate courtship displays. The research he presented focused mainly on golden-collared manakins and their unique “jump-snap” and “roll-snap” displays. In the video below, you can hear the snapping sound of the bird’s wings as they come together behind their back during one of their elaborate displays.
Marcell Cadney, graduate student at University of California – Riverside, presented data showing evidence that exercise is very important for overall health and can impact the phenotype of adults. For this reason, he suggested that early interventions that target exercise may be more effective than those that target diet.
Dr. Thalia Moore, University of Michigan, was the last speaker in the session. Her talk was interesting as it focused on bipedalism in desert rodents and reasons these animals may have evolved bipedalism. The bipedal rodents in her study had less predictable movements and were able to escape faster than quadruped rodents, which is really interesting!