A comparative study of the trabecular bony architecture of the talus in humans, non-human primates, and Australopithecus.
This study tested the hypothesis that talar trabecular microarchitecture reflects the loading patterns in the primate ankle joint, to determine whether talar trabecular morphology might be useful for inferring locomotor behavior in fossil hominins. Trabecular microarchitecture was quantified in the anteromedial, anterolateral, posteromedial, and posterolateral quadrants of the talar body in humans and non-human primates using micro-computed tomography. Trabecular bone parameters, including bone volume fraction, trabecular number and thickness, and degree of anisotropy differed between primates, but not in a manner entirely consistent with hypotheses derived from locomotor kinematics. Humans have highly organized trabecular struts across the entirety of the talus, consistent with the compressive loads incurred during bipedal walking. Chimpanzees possess a high bone volume fraction, consisting of plate-like trabecular struts. Orangutan tali are filled with a high number of thin, connected trabeculae, particularly in the anterior portion of the talus. Gorillas and baboons have strikingly similar internal architecture of the talus. Intraspecific analyses revealed no regional differences in trabecular architecture unique to bipedal humans. Of the 22 statistically significant regional differences in the human talus, all can also be found in other primates. Trabecular thickness, number, spacing, and connectivity density had the same regional relationship in the talus of humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, and baboons, suggesting a deeply conserved architecture in the primate talus. Australopithecus tali are human-like in most respects, differing most notably in having more oriented struts in the posteromedial quadrant of the body compared with the posterolateral quadrant. Though this result could mean that australopiths loaded their ankles in a unique manner during bipedal gait, the regional variation in degree of anisotropy was similar in humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas. These results collectively suggest that the microarchitecture of the talus does not simply reflect the loading environment, limiting its utility in reconstructing locomotion in fossil primates.