Compensatory strategies to combat perturbations in the complex, natural world
The natural world is an extremely complex place in which to move, as surfaces can change shape, incline, and stiffness with each step. An animal’s ability to move across such unpredictable terrain is critical to its survival. It is well-accepted that locomotor compensation can occur by means of active, reflex-driven neural responses. However, the role passive mechanisms (e.g., mechanical responses driven by the material properties of the body) play in perturbation response is less well-understood. We strive to discover how animals rapidly respond to the ever-changing conditions in the natural world, by examining interactions from the biological and physical perspectives. Our recent work examining the impacts of voluntary limb loss (autotomy) demonstrate how small changes in timing of stepping patterns can significantly increase locomotor stability, even after loss of 25% of the locomotor limbs. In contrast, our examinations of water running and sand-running lizards have revealed that foot morphology may help simplify the control strategies permitting locomotion across a range of surface types. We are now developing new tools and approaches to allow us to quantify the details of foot-ground interactions with non-Newtonian materials and create better models of material behavior. A general theme emerging from our data suggests that biological systems have evolved simplification strategies that decrease the range of control strategies necessary to contend with an extremely large set of potential perturbations.
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