Testing metabolic theories

Michael R Kearney, C.R. White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)


Metabolism is the process by which individual organisms acquire energy and materials from their environment and use them for maintenance, differentiation, growth, and reproduction. There has been a recent push to build an individual-based metabolic underpinning into ecological theory-that is, a metabolic theory of ecology. However, the two main theories of individual metabolism that have been applied in ecology-Kooijman's dynamic energy budget (DEB) theory and theWest, Brown, and Enquist (WBE) theory- have fundamentally different assumptions. Surprisingly, the core assumptions of these two theories have not been rigorously compared from an empirical perspective. Before we can build an understanding of ecology on the basis of individual metabolism, we must resolve the differences between these theories and thus set the appropriate foundation. Here we compare the DEB and WBE theories in detail as applied to ontogenetic growth and metabolic scaling, from which we identify circumstances where their predictions diverge most strongly. Promising experimental areas include manipulative studies of tissue regeneration, body shape, body condition, temperature, and oxygen. Much empirical work designed specifically with DEB and WBE theory in mind is required before any consensus can be reached on the appropriate theoretical basis for a metabolic theory of ecology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)546-565
Number of pages20
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Experimental tests
  • Growth model
  • Metabolic rate
  • Scaling

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