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Keywords:

  • allometry;
  • metabolic down-regulation;
  • phenotypic plasticity;
  • repeatability;
  • scaling

Abstract

The fundamental equation of the metabolic theory of ecology (MTE) indicates that most of the variation in metabolic rate are a consequence of variation in organismal size and environmental temperature. Although evolution is thought to minimize energy costs of nutrient transport, its effects on metabolic rate via adaptation, acclimatization or acclimation are considered small, and restricted mostly to variation in the scaling constant, b0. This contrasts strongly with many conclusions of evolutionary physiology and life-history theory, making closer examination of the fundamental equation an important task for evolutionary biologists. Here we do so using scorpions as model organisms. First, we investigate the implications for the fundamental equation of metabolic rate variation and its temperature dependence in the scorpion Uroplectes carinatus following laboratory acclimation. During 22 days of acclimation at 25 °C metabolic rates declined significantly (from 127.4 to 78.2 μW; P = 0.0001) whereas mean body mass remained constant (367.9–369.1 mg; P = 0.999). In field-fresh scorpions, metabolic rate–temperature (MRT) relationships varied substantially within and among individuals, and therefore had low repeatability values (τ = 0.02) and no significant among-individual variation (P = 0.181). However, acclimation resulted in a decline in within-individual variation of MRT slopes which subsequently revealed significant differences among individuals (P = 0.0031) and resulted in a fourfold increase in repeatability values (τ = 0.08). These results highlight the fact that MRT relationships can show substantial, directional variation within individuals over time. Using a randomization model we demonstrate that the reduction in metabolic rate with acclimation while body mass remains constant causes a decline both in the value of the mass-scaling exponent and the coefficient of determination. Furthermore, interspecific comparisons of activation energy, E, demonstrated significant variation in scorpions (0.09–1.14 eV), with a mean value of 0.77 eV, significantly higher than the 0.6–0.7 eV predicted by the fundamental equation. Our results add to a growing body of work questioning both the theoretical basis and empirical support for the MTE, and suggest that alternative models of metabolic rate variation incorporating explicit consideration of life history evolution deserve further scrutiny.