An experimental test of the thermoregulatory hypothesis for the evolution of endothermy

Evolution. 2000 Oct;54(5):1768-73. doi: 10.1111/j.0014-3820.2000.tb00720.x.


The thermoregulatory hypothesis proposes that endothermy in mammals and birds evolved as a thermoregulatory mechanism per se and that natural selection operated directly to increase body temperature and thermal stability through increments in resting metabolic rate. We experimentally tested this hypothesis by measuring the thermoregulatory consequences of increased metabolic rate in resting lizards (Varanus exanthematicus). A large metabolic increment was induced by feeding the animals and consequent changes in metabolic rate and body temperature were monitored. Although metabolic rate tripled at 32 degrees C and quadrupled at 35 degrees C, body temperature rose only about 0.5 degrees C. The rate of decline of body temperature in a colder environment did not decrease as metabolic rate increased. Thus, increasing the visceral metabolic rate of this ectothermic lizard established neither consequential endothermy nor homeothermy. These results are inconsistent with a thermoregulatory explanation for the evolution of endothermy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Air
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Body Temperature
  • Body Temperature Regulation*
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Fasting
  • Lizards / genetics
  • Lizards / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Postprandial Period
  • Selection, Genetic*