Elastic recoil drives some of the fastest and most powerful biological movements. For effective use of elastic recoil, the tuning of muscle and spring force capacity is essential. Although studies of invertebrate organisms that use elastic recoil show evidence of increased force capacity in their energy loading muscle, changes in the fundamental properties of such muscles have yet to be documented in vertebrates. Here, we used three species of frogs (Cuban tree frogs, bullfrogs and cane toads) that differ in jumping power to investigate functional shifts in muscle-spring tuning in systems using latch-mediated spring actuation (LaMSA). We hypothesized that variation in jumping performance would result from increased force capacity in muscles and relatively stiffer elastic structures, resulting in greater energy storage. To test this, we characterized the force–length property of the plantaris longus muscle–tendon unit (MTU), and quantified the maximal amount of energy stored in elastic structures for each species. We found that the plantaris longus MTU of Cuban tree frogs produced higher mass-specific energy and mass-specific forces than the other two species. Moreover, we found that the plantaris longus MTU of Cuban tree frogs had higher pennation angles than the other species, suggesting that muscle architecture was modified to increase force capacity through packing of more muscle fibers. Finally, we found that the elastic structures were relatively stiffer in Cuban tree frogs. These results provide a mechanistic link between the tuned properties of LaMSA components, energy storage capacity and whole-system performance.

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