, Volume 179, Issue 3, pp 231-239
Date: 29 Oct 2008

Functional demands of dynamic biological adhesion: an integrative approach

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Climbing organisms are constantly challenged to make their way rapidly and reliably across varied and often novel terrain. A diversity of morphologically and mechanically disparate attachment strategies have evolved across widely distributed phylogenetic groups to aid legged animals in scaling these surfaces, notable among them some very impressive adhesive pads. Despite the differences between, for example, the dry fibrillar pads of geckos and the smooth, secretion-aided pads of stick insects, I hypothesize that they face similar functional demands in their environment. I outline three broad criteria defining dynamic biological adhesion: reusability, reversibility, and substrate tolerance. Organismal adhesive pads must be able to attach repeatedly without significant decline in performance, detach easily at will, and adhere strongly to the broadest possible range of surfaces in their habitat. A survey of the literature suggests that evidence for these general principles can be found in existing research, but that many gaps remain to be filled. By taking a comparative, integrative approach to biological dynamic adhesion, rather than focusing on a few model organisms, investigators will continue to discover new and interesting attachment strategies in natural systems.

Communicated by I. D. Hume.