Ontogenetic and interspecific scaling of consumption in insects

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The uptake of resources from the environment is a basic feature of all life. Consumption rate has been found to scale with body size with an exponent close to unity across diverse organisms. However, past analyses have ignored the important distinction between ontogenetic and interspecific size comparisons. Using principles of dynamic energy budget theory, we present a mechanistic model for the body mass scaling of consumption, which separates interspecific size effects from ontogenetic size effects. Our model predicts uptake to scale with surface-area (mass2/3) during ontogenetic growth but more quickly (between mass3/4 and mass1) for interspecific comparisons. Available data for 41 insect species on consumption and assimilation during ontogeny provides strong empirical support for our theoretical predictions. Specifically, consumption rate scaled interspecifically with an exponent close to unity (0.89) but during ontogenetic growth scaled more slowly with an exponent of 0.70. Assimilation rate (consumption minus defecation) through ontogeny scaled more slowly than consumption due to a decrease in assimilation efficiency as insects grow. Our results highlight how body size imposes different constraints on metabolism depending on whether the size comparison is ontogenetic or inter-specific.


One of the most robust patterns in biology is the effect of body size on metabolism – a relationship that underlies the rapidly emerging field of metabolic ecology. However, the precise energetic constraints imposed by body size have been notoriously difficult to entangle. Here we show that the constraints imposed on metabolism by body size are different depending on whether the size comparison is ontogenetic or interspecific. Using a single unifying theory of animal metabolism and a newly compiled data set on insect consumption and assimilation rates, we show that interspecific comparisons generally lead to the estimation of higher scaling exponents compared with ontogenetic comparisons. Our results help to explain large variation in estimated metabolic scaling exponents and will encourage future studies in metabolic ecology to make the important distinction between ontogenetic and evolutionary size changes.

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