The allometry of locomotion

Carl S. Cloyed, John M. Grady, Van M. Savage, Josef C. Uyeda, Anthony I. Dell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Organismal locomotion mediates ecological interactions and shapes community dynamics. Locomotion is constrained by intrinsic and environmental factors and integrating these factors should clarify how locomotion affects ecology across scales. We extended general theory based on metabolic scaling and biomechanics to predict the scaling of five locomotor performance traits: routine speed, maximum speed, maximum acceleration, minimum powered turn radius, and angular speed. To test these predictions, we used phylogenetically informed analyses of a new database with 884 species and found support for our quantitative predictions. Larger organisms were faster but less maneuverable than smaller organisms. Routine and maximum speeds scaled with body mass to 0.20 and 0.17 powers, respectively, and plateaued at higher body masses, especially for maximum speed. Acceleration was unaffected by body mass. Minimum turn radius scaled to a 0.19 power, and the 95% CI included our theoretical prediction, as we predicted. Maximum angular speed scaled higher than predicted but in the same direction. We observed universal scaling among locomotor modes for routine and maximum speeds but the intercepts varied; flying organisms were faster than those that swam or ran. Acceleration was independent of size in flying and aquatic taxa but decreased with body mass in land animals, possibly due to the risk of injury large, terrestrial organisms face at high speeds and accelerations. Terrestrial mammals inhabiting structurally simple habitats tended to be faster than those in complex habitats. Despite effects of body size, locomotor mode, and habitat complexity, universal scaling of locomotory performance reveals the general ways organisms move across Earth’s complex environments.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere03369
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • acceleration
  • angular speed
  • animal movement
  • locomotor performance
  • maneuverability
  • predator–prey interactions
  • speed


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