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Scientists monitor parkour athletes to understand apes

Recent research from the University of Roehampton has revealed how and why apes manoeuvre through tree-tops by studying the movement of parkour athletes.

Posted: 23 November 2016

image for news story Scientists monitor parkour athletes to understand apes
Parkour athlete

Dr Lewis Halsey from the University of Roehampton's Life Sciences Department worked with parkour athletes, who negotiate the urban environment by running, jumping and climbing rapidly, to better understand how apes travel efficiently and effectively through high and unstable tree-tops.

Until now, little was known about how large apes move around their environment, with fossil records providing scant information on their evolution. Dr Halsey and his team created an artificial 'tree-top' obstacle course which parkour athletes negotiated by swinging, leaping and climbing. Measuring the athletes' energy usage through their oxygen intake demonstrated the most energy efficient ways in which to move. Results found that vertical climbing costs much more energy than swinging and leaping, which is why apes prioritise routes that limit height changes.

Dr Halsey's research also showed that the parkour athletes whose body shapes were more ape-like – short legs and long arms – were the most energy efficient at moving around the simulated forest. Familiarity with the course helped the athletes reduce their energy usages, explaining why large tree-dwelling apes frequent the same pathways in the wild.

Dr Halsey commented, "We found that parkour athletes use a number of techniques which reduce their energy cost as they move around a forest-like environment. The techniques that the athletes use in moving around the environment echo those used by apes. This suggests that apes adapt particular ways of moving due to their size, and the demands of their environment, so that they are able to conserve their energy."

Read Dr Halsey's full research paper in The Royal Society here.

The Department of Life Sciences at Roehampton offers a range of outstanding degrees including the Integrated BSc and MSc Zoology and BSc in Zoology. You can also further your studies on our MRes Primate Biology, Behaviour and Conservation course.

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