Can metrics of acceleration provide accurate estimates of energy costs of locomotion on uneven terrain? Using domestic sheep (Ovis aries) as an example

Christina C. Mulvenna, Nikki J. Marks, Rory P. Wilson, Lewis G Halsey, David M. Scantlebury

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2 Citations (Scopus)
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Locomotion is often a necessity for animal survival and can account for a large proportion of an individual’s energy budget. Therefore, determining the energy costs of locomotion is an important part of understanding the interaction between an animal and its environment. Measures of animal acceleration, specifically ‘dynamic body acceleration’ (DBA) has proved to be a useful proxy of the energy cost of locomotion. However, few studies have considered the effects of interacting factors such as the animal’s speed or changes to the terrain slope on the putative acceleration versus energy expenditure relationship and how this may affect the relationship between DBA and energy expenditure.

Here we conducted a methodological study to evaluate the ability of the metric ‘vectorial dynamic body acceleration’, VeDBA, obtained from tri-axial accelerometer data loggers, to act as a proxy for energy expenditure in non-uniform environments. We used indirect calorimetry to measure the oxygen consumption (V̇O2) of domestic sheep (Ovis aries) that were exposed to different ambient temperatures when immobile (resting) and that walked at various speeds (0.8 to 2.9 km h−1) and slope angles (− 6° to 6°) on a treadmill while simultaneously measuring tri-axial acceleration recorded at 40 Hz by body-mounted tags.

The lower critical temperature of sheep was identified as 18 °C, and V̇O2 when they were immobile was 3.67 mL O2 kg−1 min−1. There were positive relationships between V̇O2, VeDBA, and speed of walking. However, VeDBA correlated less well with V̇O2 when the terrain slope either inclined or declined.

We advocate caution when using DBA metrics for establishing energy use in animals moving over uneven terrain and suggest that each study species or location must be examined on a case-by-case basis. Reliance upon the relationship described between acceleration and energy expenditure on horizontal-surface treadmills can lead to potential under- or over-estimates of energy expenditure when animals walk on uneven or inclined ground.
Original languageEnglish
Article number8
JournalAnimal Biotelemetry
Publication statusPublished - 27 Feb 2022


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