Marine Science Faculty Publications

The Rate of Metabolism in Marine Animals: Environmental Constraints, Ecological Demands and Energetic Opportunities

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deep sea, scaling, oxygen consumption, marine, locomotion, metabolism

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The rates of metabolism in animals vary tremendously throughout the biosphere. The origins of this variation are a matter of active debate with some scientists highlighting the importance of anatomical or environmental constraints, while others emphasize the diversity of ecological roles that organisms play and the associated energy demands. Here, we analyse metabolic rates in diverse marine taxa, with special emphasis on patterns of metabolic rate across a depth gradient, in an effort to understand the extent and underlying causes of variation. The conclusion from this analysis is that low rates of metabolism, in the deep sea and elsewhere, do not result from resource (e.g. food or oxygen) limitation or from temperature or pressure constraint. While metabolic rates do decline strongly with depth in several important animal groups, for others metabolism in abyssal species proceeds as fast as in ecologically similar shallow-water species at equivalent temperatures. Rather, high metabolic demand follows strong selection for locomotory capacity among visual predators inhabiting well-lit oceanic waters. Relaxation of this selection where visual predation is limited provides an opportunity for reduced energy expenditure. Large-scale metabolic variation in the ocean results from interspecific differences in ecological energy demand.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, v. 362, issue 1487, p. 2061-2078