Describing postures has always been a central concern when studying behaviour. However, attempts to compare postures objectively at phylogenetical, populational, inter- or intra-individual levels generally either rely upon a few key elements or remain highly subjective. Here, we propose a novel approach, based on well-established geometric morphometrics, to describe and to analyse postures globally (i.e. considering the animal’s body posture in its entirety rather than focusing only on a few salient elements, such as head or tail position). Geometric morphometrics is concerned with describing and comparing variation and changes in the form (size and shape) of organisms using the coordinates of a series of homologous landmarks (i.e. positioned in relation to skeletal or muscular cues that are the same for different species for every variety of form and function and that have derived from a common ancestor, i.e. they have a common evolutionary ancestry, e.g. neck, wings, flipper/hand). We applied this approach to horses, using global postures (1) to characterise behaviours that correspond to different arousal levels, (2) to test potential impact of environmental changes on postures. Our application of geometric morphometrics to horse postures showed that this method can be used to characterise behavioural categories, to evaluate the impact of environmental factors (here human actions) and to compare individuals and groups. Beyond its application to horses, this promising approach could be applied to all questions involving the analysis of postures (evolution of displays, expression of emotions, stress and welfare, behavioural repertoires…) and could lead to a whole new line of research.
- Posture analysis
- Geometric morphometrics
- Innovative methodological application