Economies of scaling: More evidence that allometry of metabolism is linked to activity, metabolic rate and habitat

Nicholas Carey, Julia D. Sigwart, Jeffrey G. Richards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Organismal metabolic rates influence many ecological processes, and the mass-specific metabolic rate of organisms decreases with increasing body mass according to a power law. The exponent in this equation is commonly thought to be the three-quarter-power of body mass, determined by fundamental physical laws that extend across taxa. However, recent work has cast doubt as to the universality of this relationship, the value of 0.75 being an interspecies 'average' of scaling exponents that vary naturally between certain boundaries. There is growing evidence that metabolic scaling varies significantly between even closely related species, and that different values can be associated with lifestyle, activity and metabolic rates. Here we show that the value of the metabolic scaling exponent varies within a group of marine ectotherms, chitons (Mollusca: Polyplacophora: Mopaliidae), and that differences in the scaling relationship may be linked to species-specific adaptations to different but overlapping microhabitats. Oxygen consumption rates of six closely related, co-occurring chiton species from the eastern Pacific (Vancouver Island, British Columbia) were examined under controlled experimental conditions. Results show that the scaling exponent varies between species (between 0.64 and 0.91). Different activity levels, metabolic rates and lifestyle may explain this variation. The interspecific scaling exponent in these data is not significantly different from the archetypal 0.75 value, even though five out of six species-specific values are significantly different from that value. Our data suggest that studies using commonly accepted values such as 0.75 derived from theoretical models to extrapolate metabolic data of species to population or community levels should consider the likely variation in exponents that exists in the real world, or seek to encompass such error in their models. This study, as in numerous previous ones, demonstrates that scaling exponents show large, naturally occurring variation, and provides more evidence against the existence of a universal scaling law.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-14
JournalJournal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology
Early online date10 Nov 2012
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jan 2013


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