, Volume 150, Issue 2, pp 190–201 | Cite as

Correlation of metabolism with tissue carbon and nitrogen turnover rate in small mammals

  • Stephen E. MacAvoy
  • Lynne S. Arneson
  • Ethan Bassett


Stable isotopes have proven to be a useful tool for deciphering food webs, examining migration patterns and determining nutrient resource allocation. In order to increase the descriptive power of isotopes, an increasing number of studies are using them to model tissue turnover. However, these studies have, mostly by necessity, been largely limited to laboratory experiments and the demand for an easier method of estimating tissue turnover in the field for a large variety of organisms remains. In this study, we have determined the turnover rate of blood in mice and rats using stable isotope analysis, and compared these rates to the metabolic rates of the animals. Rats (Rattus norvegicus) (n=4) and mice (Mus musculus) (n=4) were switched between isotopically distinct diets, and the rate of change of δ13C and δ15N in whole blood was determined. Basal metabolic rates (as CO2 output and O2 consumption per unit time, normalized for mass) were determined for the rats and mice. Rats, which were an order of magnitude larger and had a slower metabolic rate per unit mass than mice (0.02 vs. 0.14 O2/min/g), had a slower blood turnover than mice for 13C (t 1/2 =24.8 and 17.3 days, respectively) and 15N (t 1/2 =27.7 and 15.4 days, respectively). A positive correlation between metabolic rate and blood isotopic turnover rate was found. These are the only such data for mammals available, but the literature for birds shows that mass and whole-body metabolic rates in birds scale logarithmically with tissue turnover. Interestingly, the mammalian data graph separately from the bird data on a turnover versus metabolic rate plot. Both mice and rat tissue in this study exhibited a slower turnover rate compared to metabolic rate than for birds. These data suggest that metabolic rate may be used to estimate tissue turnover rate when working with organisms in the field, but that a different relationship between tissue turnover and metabolism may exist for different classes of organisms.


Stable isotope Turnover Metabolism Blood Mammal 



The authors would like to thank the COSMOS Foundation and the Mellon Fund (American University) for partial funding of this study, and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments. The experiments described in this paper comply with the current laws of the United States.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen E. MacAvoy
    • 1
  • Lynne S. Arneson
    • 1
  • Ethan Bassett
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyAmerican UniversityWashingtonUSA

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