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Real-world challenges to, and capabilities of, the gekkotan adhesive system: contrasting the rough and the smooth

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Many species of gekkotan lizards possess adhesive subdigital pads that allow them to adhere to, and move easily on, a wide variety of surfaces. However, although the mechanism of adhesion and the potential adhesive capacity of this system have been extensively studied, the adaptive value of these structures and their deployment in natural situations have rarely been examined. The maximal adhesive capacity of gekkotan setal fields has been shown to greatly exceed the force needed to support the body. This high adhesive potential is likely an adaptation for movement on the natural surfaces that these lizards encounter in their environment. Natural surfaces may be rough, undulant, and unpredictable, and provide only limited, patchy areas with which adhesive structures can make contact. Here we examine the microtopography of rock surfaces used by a southern African species of gecko of the genus Rhoptropus Peters, 1869, and compare this to the form, configuration, compliance, and functional morphology of the setal fields of this species. Our results demonstrate that the structure and topology of natural surfaces are important factors in understanding the design of subdigital pads, and provide insight into the evolution of the adhesive system of gekkonid lizards and its adaptive value on topographically unpredictable surfaces.

Plusieurs espèces de lézards du groupe des Gekkota possèdent des coussinets adhésifs subdigitaux qui leur permettent d’adhérer à une grande variété de surfaces et de s’y déplacer facilement. Cependant, bien qu’on ait étudié en détail le mécanisme de l’adhésion et les capacités adhésives potentielles du système, on a rarement examiné la valeur adaptative de ces structures, ni leur utilisation dans les conditions naturelles. Il est démontré que la capacité maximale d’adhésion des champs de soies des Gekkota dépasse de beaucoup la force requise pour retenir le corps. Ce fort potentiel adhésif est vraisemblablement une adaptation pour le déplacement sur les surfaces naturelles que ces lézards rencontrent dans leur milieu. Les surfaces naturelles peuvent être rugueuses, ondulées et non prévisibles et ne fournir qu’un nombre restreint de taches avec lesquelles les structures adhésives peuvent établir un contact. Nous examinons la microtopographie de surfaces de pierres utilisées par une espèce de gecko du genre Rhoptropus Peters, 1869 du sud de l’Afrique et la comparons à la forme, la configuration, l’ajustement et la morphologie fonctionnelle des champs de soies de l’espèce. Nos résultats montrent que la structure et la topographie des surfaces naturelles sont des variables importantes pour comprendre la configuration des coussinets subdigitaux et qu’elles ouvrent des perspectives sur l’évolution du système adhésif des lézards gekkonidés et de sa valeur adaptative sur des surfaces à topographie imprévisible.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2007-12-01

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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