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Individual-level lateralization in the asymmetrical gaits of wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes): implications for hand preference and skeletal asymmetry?

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We examined lateral biases in the asymmetrical gallop gaits of wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) approaching trees to drum in Gombe National Park, Tanzania. This is the first study of chimpanzee fast gaits under natural conditions. Analyzing digital video recordings collected over a 12-year period, we were able to determine lateral bias in 153 gallop bouts for the eight most frequently sampled males. For 89 of these bouts, symmetry and duty factor measurements were also possible for at least one stride cycle. Seven of eight males were lateralized, and the eighth was ambi-preferent. The degree of lateralization was comparable to that reported for chimpanzee hand preference during complex, bi-manual object manipulation, and similar to that reported for galloping in domestic horses. No group-level directional bias was found. Although little is known about lateral biases in the asymmetrical gaits of mammals in the wild, we speculate that predator-prey dynamics would select against group-level lateral biases but for the ability to switch leads. The absence of lead switching by chimpanzees in this study may reflect selection for maximum speed to reach arboreal escape routes. We discuss the possibility that locomotor lateralization could constrain the emergence of group-level biases in hand preference in chimpanzees, and could be implicated in the development of limb long bone asymmetries.

Affiliations: 1: 1Anthropology Department, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA; 2: 2Jane Goodall Institute, Arlington, VA 22203, USA


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