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Reconsidering the Mechanistic Basis of the Metabolic Theory of Ecology

Michael P. O'Connor, Stanley J. Kemp, Salvatore J. Agosta, Frank Hansen, Annette E. Sieg, Bryan P. Wallace, James N. McNair and Arthur E. Dunham
Oikos
Vol. 116, No. 6 (Jun., 2007), pp. 1058-1072
Published by: Wiley on behalf of Nordic Society Oikos
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40235228
Page Count: 15
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Reconsidering the Mechanistic Basis of the Metabolic Theory of Ecology
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Abstract

The recently proposed metabolic theory of ecology (MTE) claims to provide a mechanistic explanation for long known allometric relationships between mass and metabolic rate. The MTE postulates that these patterns of allometry are driven by the primary selective constraint of transport of energy and materials. However, recent evidence along several different lines has called into question both the adequacy and the universality of this mechanism. We review the accumulating body of literature on this subject, adding our own concerns and criticisms. In addition to other difficulties, we argue that MTE fails as a mechanistic explanation of mass versus metabolic rate allometries because: 1) circulatory cost minimization is not a tenable criterion for evolutionary optimization, 2) the Boltzmann type relationships on which MTE depends are inadequate descriptors of complex metabolic pathways, and 3) most of the hypotheses advanced by the MTE do not, in fact, depend on the proposed mechanism and therefore cannot be used to test the theory. We conclude that the MTE should be abandoned as a monolithic explanation for allometric patterns, and that a more realistic path toward a better understanding of allometry would be to consider multiple explanatory mechanisms for physiological allometries.

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