Linking scaling laws across eukaryotes

Ian A. Hatton, Andy P. Dobson, David Storch, Eric D. Galbraith, Michel Loreau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearch

15 Citations (Scopus)


© 2019 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved. Scaling laws relating body mass to species characteristics are among the most universal quantitative patterns in biology. Within major taxonomic groups, the 4 key ecological variables of metabolism, abundance, growth, and mortality are often well described by power laws with exponents near 3/4 or related to that value, a commonality often attributed to biophysical constraints on metabolism. However, metabolic scaling theories remain widely debated, and the links among the 4 variables have never been formally tested across the full domain of eukaryote life, to which prevailing theory applies. Here we present datasets of unprecedented scope to examine these 4 scaling laws across all eukaryotes and link them to test whether their combinations support theoretical expectations. We find that metabolism and abundance scale with body size in a remarkably reciprocal fashion, with exponents near ±3/4 within groups, as expected from metabolic theory, but with exponents near ±1 across all groups. This reciprocal scaling supports “energetic equivalence” across eukaryotes, which hypothesizes that the partitioning of energy in space across species does not vary significantly with body size. In contrast, growth and mortality rates scale similarly both within and across groups, with exponents of ±1/4. These findings are inconsistent with a metabolic basis for growth and mortality scaling across eukaryotes. We propose that rather than limiting growth, metabolism adjusts to the needs of growth within major groups, and that growth dynamics may offer a viable theoretical basis to biological scaling.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21616-21622
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Publication statusPublished - 22 Oct 2019


  • Biological scaling
  • Macroecology
  • Metabolic theory

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