Aerobic mitochondria serve as the power sources of eukaryotes by producing ATP through oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS). The enzymes involved in OXPHOS are multisubunit complexes encoded by both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA. Thus, regulation of respiration is necessarily a highly coordinated process that must organize production, assembly and function of mitochondria to meet an organism's energetic needs. Here I review the role of OXPHOS in metabolic adaptation and diversification of higher animals. On a physiological timescale, endocrine-initiated signaling pathways allow organisms to modulate respiratory enzyme concentration and function under changing environmental conditions. On an evolutionary timescale, mitochondrial enzymes are targets of natural selection, balancing cytonuclear coevolutionary constraints against physiological innovation. By synthesizing our knowledge of biochemistry, physiology and evolution of respiratory regulation, I propose that we can now explore questions at the interface of these fields, from molecular translation of environmental cues to selection on mitochondrial haplotype variation. BioEssays 28: 890–901, 2006. © 2006 Wiley periodicals, Inc.