The Effects of Multiple Obstacles on the Locomotor Behavior and Performance of a Terrestrial Lizard (Sceloporus woodi)

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Journal of Experimental Biology






Negotiation of variable terrain is important for many small terrestrial vertebrates. Variation in the running surface resulting from obstacles (woody debris, vegetation, rocks) can alter escape paths and running performance. The ability to navigate obstacles likely influences survivorship through predator evasion success and other key ecological tasks (finding mates, acquiring food). Earlier work established that running posture and sprint performance are altered when organisms face an obstacle, and yet studies involving multiple obstacles are limited. Indeed, some habitats are cluttered with obstacles, whereas others are not. For many species, obstacle density may be important in predator escape and/or colonization potential by conspecifics. This study examines how multiple obstacles influence running behavior and locomotor posture in lizards. We predict that an increasing number of obstacles will increase the frequency of pausing and decrease sprint velocity. Furthermore, bipedal running over multiple obstacles is predicted to maintain greater mean sprint velocity compared with quadrupedal running, thereby revealing a potential advantage of bipedalism. Lizards were filmed running through a racetrack with zero, one or two obstacles. Bipedal running posture over one obstacle was significantly faster than quadrupedal posture. Bipedal running trials contained fewer total strides than quadrupedal ones. But on addition of a second obstacle, the number of bipedal strides decreased. Increasing obstacle number led to slower and more intermittent locomotion. Bipedalism provided clear advantages for one obstacle, but was not associated with further benefits for an additional obstacle. Hence, bipedalism helps mitigate obstacle negotiation, but not when numerous obstacles are encountered in succession.