Metabolic rate covaries with fitness and the pace of the life history in the field

Authors: Amanda K Pettersen, Craig R White and Dustin J Marshall

Published in: Proceedings of the Royal Society B, volume 283, issue 1831 (May 2016)


Metabolic rate reflects the ‘pace of life’ in every organism. Metabolic rate is related to an organism’s capacity for essential maintenance, growth and reproduction—all of which interact to affect fitness.

Although thousands of measurements of metabolic rate have been made, the microevolutionary forces that shape metabolic rate remain poorly resolved. The relationship between metabolic rate and components of fitness are often inconsistent, possibly because these fitness components incompletely map to actual fitness and often negatively covary with each other.

Here we measure metabolic rate across ontogeny and monitor its effects on actual fitness (lifetime reproductive output) for a marine bryozoan in the field. We also measure key components of fitness throughout the entire life history including growth rate, longevity and age at the onset of reproduction.

We found that correlational selection favours individuals with higher metabolic rates in one stage and lower metabolic rates in the other—individuals with similar metabolic rates in each developmental stage displayed the lowest fitness. Furthermore, individuals with the lowest metabolic rates lived for longer and reproduced more, but they also grew more slowly and took longer to reproduce initially.

That metabolic rate is related to the pace of the life history in nature has long been suggested by macroevolutionary patterns but this study reveals the microevolutionary processes that probably generated these patterns.


Pettersen A, White CF, Marshall DJ (2016) Metabolic rate covaries with fitness and the pace of the life history in the field, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 283: 20160323
PDF 548 KB doi: 20160323. doi:10.1098/rspb.2016.0323