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Metabolic Scaling in Animals: Methods, Empirical Results, and Theoretical Explanations

  1. Craig R. White1,
  2. Michael R. Kearney2

Published Online: 10 JAN 2014

DOI: 10.1002/cphy.c110049

Comprehensive Physiology

Comprehensive Physiology

How to Cite

White, C. R. and Kearney, M. R. 2014. Metabolic Scaling in Animals: Methods, Empirical Results, and Theoretical Explanations. Comprehensive Physiology. 4:231–256.

Author Information

  1. 1

    School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Queensland, Australia

  2. 2

    Department of Zoology, The University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 10 JAN 2014


Life on earth spans a size range of around 21 orders of magnitude across species and can span a range of more than 6 orders of magnitude within species of animal. The effect of size on physiology is, therefore, enormous and is typically expressed by how physiological phenomena scale with massb. When b ≠ 1 a trait does not vary in direct proportion to mass and is said to scale allometrically. The study of allometric scaling goes back to at least the time of Galileo Galilei, and published scaling relationships are now available for hundreds of traits. Here, the methods of scaling analysis are reviewed, using examples for a range of traits with an emphasis on those related to metabolism in animals. Where necessary, new relationships have been generated from published data using modern phylogenetically informed techniques. During recent decades one of the most controversial scaling relationships has been that between metabolic rate and body mass and a number of explanations have been proposed for the scaling of this trait. Examples of these mechanistic explanations for metabolic scaling are reviewed, and suggestions made for comparing between them. Finally, the conceptual links between metabolic scaling and ecological patterns are examined, emphasizing the distinction between (1) the hypothesis that size- and temperature-dependent variation among species and individuals in metabolic rate influences ecological processes at levels of organization from individuals to the biosphere and (2) mechanistic explanations for metabolic rate that may explain the size- and temperature-dependence of this trait. © 2014 American Physiological Society. Compr Physiol 4:231-256, 2014.