Patek Lab graduate student Michael Rosario (now a postdoc at Brown), led a new paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. This paper examines the dynamics of muscles and springs, specifically contrasting the most effective spring properties during the slow preparation of grasshopper jumps versus the more rapid preparation of bullfrog jumps.
Rosario MV, Sutton GP, Patek SN, Sawicki GS. 2016. Muscle–spring dynamics in time-limited, elastic movements. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 283(1838).
Muscle contractions that load in-series springs with slow speed over a long duration do maximal work and store the most elastic energy. However, time constraints, such as those experienced during escape and predation behaviours, may prevent animals from achieving maximal force capacity from their muscles during spring-loading. Here, we ask whether animals that have limited time for elastic energy storage operate with springs that are tuned to submaximal force production. To answer this question, we used a dynamic model of a muscle–spring system undergoing a fixed-end contraction, with parameters from a time-limited spring-loader (bullfrog: Lithobates catesbeiana) and a non-time-limited spring-loader (grasshopper: Schistocerca gregaria). We found that when muscles have less time to contract, stored elastic energy is maximized with lower spring stiffness (quantified as spring constant). The spring stiffness measured in bullfrog tendons permitted less elastic energy storage than was predicted by a modelled, maximal muscle contraction. However, when muscle contractions were modelled using biologically relevant loading times for bullfrog jumps (50 ms), tendon stiffness actually maximized elastic energy storage. In contrast, grasshoppers, which are not time limited, exhibited spring stiffness that maximized elastic energy storage when modelled with a maximal muscle contraction. These findings demonstrate the significance of evolutionary variation in tendon and apodeme properties to realistic jumping contexts as well as the importance of considering the effect of muscle dynamics and behavioural constraints on energy storage in muscle–spring systems.