Reconciling theories for metabolic scaling



  1. Metabolic theory specifies constraints on the metabolic organisation of individual organisms. These constraints have important implications for biological processes ranging from the scale of molecules all the way to the level of populations, communities and ecosystems, with their application to the latter emerging as the field of metabolic ecology. While ecologists continue to use individual metabolism to identify constraints in ecological processes, the topic of metabolic scaling remains controversial.
  2. Much of the current interest and controversy in metabolic theory relates to recent ideas about the role of supply networks in constraining energy supply to cells. We show that an alternative explanation for physicochemical constraints on individual metabolism, as formalised by dynamic energy budget (DEB) theory, can contribute to the theoretical underpinning of metabolic ecology, while increasing coherence between intra- and interspecific scaling relationships.
  3. In particular, we emphasise how the DEB theory considers constraints on the storage and use of assimilated nutrients and derive an equation for the scaling of metabolic rate for adult heterotrophs without relying on optimisation arguments or implying cellular nutrient supply limitation. Using realistic data on growth and reproduction from the literature, we parameterise the curve for respiration and compare the a priori prediction against a mammalian data set for respiration.

  4. Because the DEB theory mechanism for metabolic scaling is based on the universal process of acquiring and using pools of stored metabolites (a basal feature of life), it applies to all organisms irrespective of the nature of metabolic transport to cells. Although the DEB mechanism does not necessarily contradict insight from transport-based models, the mechanism offers an explanation for differences between the intra- and interspecific scaling of biological rates with mass, suggesting novel tests of the respective hypotheses.