Trabecular bone ontogeny tracks neural development and life history among humans and non-human primates

December 02, 2023


Trabecular bone, hominin, ontogeny, bone functional adaptation, locomotion


Trabecular bone—the spongy bone inside marrow cavities—adapts to its mechanical environment during growth and development. Trabecular structure can therefore be interpreted as a functional record of locomotor behavior in extinct vertebrates. In this paper, we expand upon traditional links between form and function by situating ontogenetic trajectories of trabecular bone in four primate species into the broader developmental context of neural development, locomotor control, and ultimately life history. Our aim is to show that trabecular bone structure provides insights into ontogenetic variation in locomotor loading conditions as the product of interactions between increases in body mass and neuromuscular maturation. Our results demonstrate that age-related changes in trabecular bone volume fraction (BV/TV) are strongly and linearly associated with ontogenetic changes in locomotor kinetics. Age-related variation in locomotor kinetics and BV/TV is in turn strongly associated with brain and body size growth in all species. These results imply that age-related variation in BV/TV is a strong proxy for both locomotor kinetics and neuromuscular maturation. Finally, we show that distinct changes in the slope of age-related variation in bone volume fraction correspond to the age of the onset of locomotion and the age of locomotor maturity. Our findings compliment previous studies linking bone development to locomotor mechanics by providing a fundamental link to brain development and life history. This implies that trabecular structure of fossil subadults can be a proxy for the rate of neuromuscular maturation and major life history events like locomotor onset and the achievement of adult-like locomotor repertoires.

How Our Software Was Used

Dragonfly was used to automatically calculate average bone volume fraction (BV/TV) in the whole calcaneus from regions isolated and removed from the internal marrow cavity using the Kohler segmentation algorithm.

Author Affiliation

(1) Naturalis Biodiversity Center, 2333 CR Leiden, the Netherlands
(2) Department of Anthropology, University at Albany, SUNY, Albany, NY 12222
(3) Department of Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, State College, PA 16802
(4) Department of Anthropology, Western University, London, CA ON N6A 5C2