University of Birmingham
School of Biosciences




Dr Susannah Thorpe, Senior Lecturer in Locomotor ecology and Biomechanics

Dr Julia Myatt, Lecturer in Behavioural Ecology and Morphology


Doctoral Researchers

Nardie Hanson (BSc Birmingham, MRes Manchester Metropolitan), Primate cognition and locomotion in relation to support use and route planning

I am interested in the evolution of cognition in primates and how this is related to the locomotion of large bodied primates in a complex three-dimensional canopy environment. My research forms a link between cognition and positional behaviour looking particularly at the use of supports as tools for locomotion. I am testing the level of understanding of individual support properties and relationships in apes (including humans) and old world monkeys. This I hope will increase current understandings of the complex cognitive abilities possessed by arboreal primates, and has many applications from furthering knowledge of primate and ultimately human evolution to practical implementations such as understanding the importance of the structure of wild habitats in successful conservation and reintroductions from captive populations.


Maria Ntolopoulou, (BSc Montpellier, MRes Aix-Marseille), Assisted locomotion in Elderly.

My research focuses on the interaction of the elderly with the environment. My primary focus is the development of locomotor patterns during the human lifespan in order to understand the effects of constraints on locomotion in elderly. I am particularly interested in human mechanics during walking and my project aims to provide new knowledge on the use of walking sticks in elderly populations. Walking is an essential activity for older people. It provides autonomy, maintains cardio-vascular activity, raises the metabolic base rate and helps mental health. It is therefore crucial that older people continue walking in spite of arthritis and other ailments. Walking sticks have a supportive role on gait. Clinical and biomechanics evaluations of canes confirm that these devices can improve balance and mobility, reduce the pain in joints and help neuromotor and attentional demands. Even though this issue has important socio-economic and health implications, the literature is currently quite poor on what the elderly stick users are actually doing in an ecological context (naturally) and there is a need for further research in the understanding of the biomechanical requirements of walking with sticks.

Emily Saunders (BSc York, MRes Imperial College London), locomotion and ecomorphology of western lowland gorillas.

My research focuses on the associations between an animal’s locomotion, habitat and musculoskeletal anatomy. Understanding these links allows us to reconstruct the behaviour of extinct species from fossil evidence, and therefore answer evolutionary questions. I am studying western lowland gorillas because, of all the apes, relatively little is known about their locomotor ecology. They are surprisingly arboreal for their large body size, particularly during seasons of high fruit availability when they spend time foraging in the peripheral branches of tree crowns. It has been shown that orangutans, which are almost exclusively arboreal, have developed a refined suite of locomotor adaptations to allow movement within these peripheral meshes of thin, compliant supports. This includes the use of bipedalism, and adds support to the theory that bipedalism in the apes evolved in an arboreal, rather than terrestrial, context, and long before the proposed genetic split between the Homo and Pan lineages. Understanding the locomotor strategies and morphological adaptations of gorillas, the largest apes, in response to their arboreal habitat will therefore provide an important insight into the evolution of ape posture and locomotion. I have carried out an observational study of captive lowland gorilla positional behaviour, and am planning to undertake more detailed kinematic studies of locomotion in both lowland gorillas and humans.


Our research is multi-disciplinary and we have a wide range of national and international collaborations including:

  • Prof. Alan Wing and Dr. Leif Johannsen (University of Birmingham, UK)

  • Dr. Rob Schumaker and Dr. Serge Wich (Great Ape Trust, Iowa),

  • Dr. Suci Utami-Atmoko and Prof. Tatang Mitra Setia (University of Jakarta, Indonesia)

  • Dr. Nadja Schilling (University of Jena, Germany)

  • Prof. Robin Crompton, Mr. Russ Savage, Dr. Evie Vereeke and Dr. Michael Gunther (University of Liverpool, UK)

  • Dr. Bill Sellers and Dr. Roland Ennos (University of Manchester, UK)

  • Dr. Maria van Noordwijk (University of Zurich, Switzerland)