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Evolutionary Morphology of the Neck System in Ratites, Fowl and Waterfowl

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For more content, see Archives Néerlandaises de Zoologie (Vol 1-17) and Animal Biology (Vol 53 and onwards).

The avian neck is a complex, kinematically redundant system that controls the position and orientation of the head. The kinematic redundancy is resolved by movement principles, which result in characteristic movement patterns. General neck movement patterns are compared between Ratites, Fowl and Waterfowl in order to find a relationship with anatomical differences and to identify the biological role(s) to which neck movement is adapted. Kinematic analyses show that Fowl move their vertebrae according to a minimal rotation principle that maximizes rotation efficiency. The resulting movement pattern shows rotations in some joints, while keeping the other vertebrae as straight bars. Waterfowl show a pattern of successive, rather than simultaneous rotations of vertebrae, limited to the rostral part of the neck. A third movement pattern is found in Ratites, which show successive rotations of the vertebrae in the middle region of the neck. The ratite-pattern is related to large vertical head trajectories, and is occasionaly also found in the Chicken. However, due to large body movements in the Chicken, head trajectories are relatively much shorter than in the Rhea. A kinematic neck model based on the minimal rotation principle only produces the Waterfowl pattern if a constraint on the movement of the caudal vertebrae is introduced. We conclude that a fundamental change occurred in the movement pattern of the Waterfowl neck, which is energetically advantageous and an adaptation to aquatic feeding.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Evolutionary Morphology, Institute of Evolutionary and Ecological Sciences, Leiden University, Kaiserstraat 63, 2311 GP Leiden, The Netherlands

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