Why Do Knuckle‐Walking African Apes Knuckle‐Walk?
Among living mammals, only the African apes and some anteaters adopt knuckle?walking as their primary locomotor behavior. That Pan and Gorilla both knuckle?walk has been cited as evidence of their common ancestry and a primitive condition for a combined Homo, Pan, and Gorilla clade. Recent research on forelimb ontogeny and anatomy, in addition to recently described hominin fossils, indicate that knuckle?walking was independently acquired after divergence of the Pan and Gorilla lineages. Although the large?bodied, largely suspensory orangutan shares some aspects of the African ape bauplan, it does not regularly knuckle?walk when terrestrial. While many anatomical correlates of knuckle?walking have been identified, a functional explanation of this unusual locomotor pattern has yet to be proposed. Here, we argue that it was adopted by African apes as a means of ameliorating the consequences of repetitive impact loadings on the soft and hard tissues of the forelimb by employing isometric and/or eccentric contraction of antebrachial musculature during terrestrial locomotion. Evidence of this adaptation can be found in the differential size and fiber geometry of the forearm musculature, and differences in torso shape between the knuckle?walking and non?knuckle?walking apes (including humans). We also argue that some osteological features of the carpus and metacarpus that have been identified as adaptations to knuckle?walking are consequences of cartilage remodeling during ontogeny rather than traits limiting motion in the hand and wrist. An understanding of the functional basis of knuckle?walking provides an explanation of the locomotor parallelisms in modern Pan and Gorilla. Anat Rec, 301:496?514, 2018. ? 2018 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.