Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 183, Issue 1, pp 1–26 | Cite as

Determinants of inter-specific variation in basal metabolic rate

  • Craig R. WhiteEmail author
  • Michael R. Kearney


Basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the rate of metabolism of a resting, postabsorptive, non-reproductive, adult bird or mammal, measured during the inactive circadian phase at a thermoneutral temperature. BMR is one of the most widely measured physiological traits, and data are available for over 1,200 species. With data available for such a wide range of species, BMR is a benchmark measurement in ecological and evolutionary physiology, and is often used as a reference against which other levels of metabolism are compared. Implicit in such comparisons is the assumption that BMR is invariant for a given species and that it therefore represents a stable point of comparison. However, BMR shows substantial variation between individuals, populations and species. Investigation of the ultimate (evolutionary) explanations for these differences remains an active area of inquiry, and explanation of size-related trends remains a contentious area. Whereas explanations for the scaling of BMR are generally mechanistic and claim ties to the first principles of chemistry and physics, investigations of mass-independent variation typically take an evolutionary perspective and have demonstrated that BMR is ultimately linked with a range of extrinsic variables including diet, habitat temperature, and net primary productivity. Here we review explanations for size-related and mass-independent variation in the BMR of animals, and suggest ways that the various explanations can be evaluated and integrated.


Metabolic rate Scaling Macrophysiology 



Lesley Alton, Doug Glazier, Phil Matthews and four anonymous reviewers provided detailed comments on an earlier version of the manuscript, and Jon Green, Lewis Halsey, Karyn Johnson, James Maino and Dustin Marshall provided helpful suggestions. Ian Hume showed exemplary patience in guiding the manuscript through several phases of development. Our research is funded by the Australian Research Council (Projects DP0987626, DP110101776, DP110102813).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesThe University of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia
  2. 2.Department of ZoologyThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia

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