Abstract Navigating complex terrains requires dynamic interactions between the substrate, musculoskeletal and sensorimotor systems. Current perturbation studies have mostly used visible terrain height perturbations, which do not allow us to distinguish among the neuromechanical contributions of feedforward control, feedback-mediated and mechanical perturbation responses. Here, we use treadmill belt speed perturbations to induce a targeted perturbation to foot speed only, and without terrain-induced changes in joint posture and leg loading at stance onset. Based on previous studies suggesting a proximo-distal gradient in neuromechanical control, we hypothesized that distal joints would exhibit larger changes in joint kinematics, compared to proximal joints. Additionally, we expected birds to use feedforward strategies to increase the intrinsic stability of gait. To test these hypotheses, seven adult guinea fowl were video recorded while walking on a motorized treadmill, during both steady and perturbed trials. Perturbations consisted of repeated exposures to a deceleration and acceleration of the treadmill belt speed. Surprisingly, we found that joint angular trajectories and center of mass fluctuations remain very similar, despite substantial perturbation of foot velocity by the treadmill belt. Hip joint angular trajectories exhibit the largest changes, with the birds adopting a slightly more flexed position across all perturbed strides. Additionally, we observed increased stride duration across all strides, consistent with feedforward changes in the control strategy. The speed perturbations mainly influenced the timing of stance and swing, with the largest kinematic changes in the strides directly following a deceleration. Our findings do not support the general hypothesis of a proximo-distal gradient in joint control, as distal joint kinematics remain largely unchanged. Instead, we find that leg angular trajectory and the timing of stance and swing are most sensitive to this specific perturbation, and leg length actuation remains largely unchanged. Our results are consistent with modular task-level control of leg length and leg angle actuation, with different neuromechanical control and perturbation sensitivity in each actuation mode. Distal joints appear to be sensitive to changes in vertical loading but not foot fore-aft velocity. Future directions should include in vivo studies of muscle activation and force-length dynamics to provide more direct evidence of the sensorimotor control strategies for stability in response to belt speed perturbations.
|Date made available||May 25 2022|