Posture does not matter! paw usage and grasping paw preference in a small-bodied rooting quadrupedal mammal

Marine Joly, Marina Scheumann, Elke Zimmermann

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Recent results in birds, marsupials, rodents and nonhuman primates suggest that phylogeny and ecological factors such as body size, diet and postural habit of a species influence limb usage and the direction and strength of limb laterality. To examine to which extent these findings can be generalised to small-bodied rooting quadrupedal mammals, we studied trees shrews (Tupaia belangeri).

Methodology/Principal Findings:
We established a behavioural test battery for examining paw usage comparable to small-bodied primates and tested 36 Tupaia belangeri. We studied paw usage in a natural foraging situation (simple food grasping task) and measured the influence of varying postural demands (triped, biped, cling, sit) on paw preferences by applying a forced-food grasping task similar to other small-bodied primates. Our findings suggest that rooting tree shrews prefer
mouth over paw usage to catch food in a natural foraging situation. Moreover, we demonstrated that despite differences in postural demand, tree shrews show a strong and consistent individual paw preference for grasping across different tasks, but no paw preference at a population level.

Tree shrews showed less paw usage than small-bodied quadrupedal and arboreal primates, but the same paw preference. Our results confirm that individual paw preferences remain constant irrespective of postural demand in some small-bodied quadrupedal non primate and primate mammals which do not require fine motoric control for manipulating food items. Our findings suggest that the lack of paw/hand preference for grasping food at a population
level is a universal pattern among those species and that the influence of postural demand on manual lateralisation in quadrupeds may have evolved in large-bodied species specialised in fine manipulations of food items.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere38228
Pages (from-to)e38228
JournalPLoS One
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2012


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