FREE PhD study and funding virtual fair REGISTER NOW FREE PhD study and funding virtual fair REGISTER NOW

(BBSRC DTP) Too big to hop? Vertebral allometry and locomotor biomechanics in kangaroos

   Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

Click here to search for PhD studentship opportunities
  Dr Katrina Jones, Prof Andrew Pask, Dr R Nudds, Dr B Parslew  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

One remarkable feature of mammals is the enormous diversity of methods they have evolved to navigate their environment e.g., swimming, flying, running. Kangaroos are a captivating example, pushing the boundaries of terrestrial locomotion using a bipedal hopping gait that allows them to achieve speeds of over 70km/hr. Exploring the principals governing such extreme locomotor adaptations can help us to understand the mechanical limits of locomotion and its impact on the evolution of locomotor diversity in mammals. Kangaroos are particularly interesting because they hop at much larger body sizes than other saltatorial mammals, and have decoupled the cost of locomotion from speed, meaning that large species can hop faster without additional energy input. Extinct Pleistocene kangaroos were even larger, reaching body sizes of up to 250kg, while still retaining a stereotypical hopping body plan. Given that large extant kangaroos appear to operate close to their safety limits for ligaments during hopping, this raises important questions regarding the scaling of hopping locomotion, potential body size limitations of this locomotor mode, and the inferred ecology of extinct giant kangaroos.

 This project will investigate the biomechanics of scaling of hopping locomotion in kangaroos. Biomechanical springs (elastic tissues) in the limbs have been pinpointed as a key adaptation for hopping at large size, however little is known about the importance of similar mechanisms in the other critical components of the locomotor system – the axial skeleton. The student will examine the scaling of vertebral structures in hopping mammals to elucidate the anatomical adaptations of the axial system for increasing size. By integrating data from the back and limbs, the student will explore biomechanical size limitations on hopping locomotion using modelling and biorobotics and apply this knowledge to test locomotor hypotheses in extinct giant kangaroos.

 This project will provide the student with access to a unique combination of expertise and resources through a research partnership between the University of Manchester and University of Melbourne. At Manchester, the student will develop a diverse skillset through the interdisciplinary supervisory team: vertebral anatomy (Katrina Jones), mathematical modelling of locomotion (Robert Nudds), and biorobotics (Ben Parslew). At Melbourne (one-year research placement, Andrew Pask), the student gain knowledge of kangaroo biology and have access to collections of fossil and extant kangaroo specimens critical to the project. An external advisor (Dr. Christine Janis, University of Bristol), a world-leading expert on extinct giant kangaroos, will provide guidance on the paleontological data collection.

Entry Requirements

Applicants must have obtained or be about to obtain a First or Upper Second class UK honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science, engineering or technology. This project is offered as a Dual Award. Applicants for Dual Award projects must meet the entry requirements of both The University of Manchester and The University of Melbourne. The University of Melbourne admissions criteria can be found at: 

Applicants interested in this project should make direct contact with the Primary Supervisor to arrange to discuss the project further as soon as possible.

How To Apply

To be considered for this project you MUST submit a formal online application form - full details on how to apply can be found on the BBSRC DTP website    

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. The full Equality, diversity and inclusion statement can be found on the website

Funding Notes

Funding will cover tuition fees and stipend only. This scheme is open to both UK and international applicants. However, we are only able to offer a limited number of studentships to applicants outside the UK. Therefore, full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme.


Janis, Christine M., Karalyn Buttrill, and Borja Figueirido. "Locomotion in extinct giant kangaroos: were sthenurines hop-less monsters?." PloS one 9.10 (2014): e109888.
Bennett, M. B., and G. C. Taylor. "Scaling of elastic strain energy in kangaroos and the benefits of being big." Nature 378.6552 (1995): 56-59.
McGowan, Craig P., J. Skinner, and Andrew A. Biewener. "Hind limb scaling of kangaroos and wallabies (superfamily Macropodoidea): implications for hopping performance, safety factor and elastic savings." Journal of Anatomy 212.2 (2008): 153-163.
Jones, K. E., & Pierce, S. E. (2016). Axial allometry in a neutrally buoyant environment: effects of the terrestrial‐aquatic transition on vertebral scaling. Journal of evolutionary biology, 29(3), 594-601.
McGowan, Craig P., and Clint E. Collins. "Why do mammals hop? Understanding the ecology, biomechanics and evolution of bipedal hopping." Journal of Experimental Biology 221.12 (2018): jeb161661.

How good is research at The University of Manchester in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities
PhD saved successfully
View saved PhDs