Orangutans utilise compliant branches to lower the energetic cost of locomotion

Susannah Thorpe, RH Crompton, RM Alexander

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

62 Citations (Scopus)


Within the forest canopy, the shortest gaps between tree crowns lie between slender terminal branches. While the compliance of these supports has previously been shown to increase the energetic cost of gap crossing in arboreal animals (e.g. Alexander 1991 Z. Morphol. Anthropol. 78, 315-320; Demes et al. 1995 Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 96, 419-429), field observations suggest that some primates may be able to use support compliance to increase the energetic efficiency of locomotion. Here, we calculate the energetic cost of alternative methods of gap crossing in orangutans (Pongo abelii). Tree sway (in which orangutans oscillate a compliant tree trunk with increasing magnitude to bridge a gap) was found to be less than half as costly as jumping, and an order of magnitude less costly than descending the tree, walking to the vine and climbing it. Observations of wild orangutans suggest that they actually use support compliance in many aspects of their locomotor behaviour. This study seems to be the first to show that elastic compliance in arboreal supports can be used to reduce the energetic cost of gap crossing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)253-256
Number of pages4
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2007


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