The functional significance of individual variation in basal metabolic rate

Physiol Biochem Zool. Nov-Dec 2004;77(6):900-15. doi: 10.1086/427059.


Basal metabolic rate (BMR) was established as a common reference point allowing comparable measures across different individuals and species. BMR is often regarded as a minimal rate of metabolism compatible with basic processes necessary to sustain life. One confusing aspect, however, is that BMR is highly variable, both within and between species. A potential explanation for this variability is that while individuals with high BMRs may suffer the disadvantage of having to feed for longer to cover the extra energy demands, this may be offset by advantages that accrue because of the high metabolic rate. One suggested advantage is that high levels of BMR are a consequence of maintaining a morphology that permits high rates of the maximal sustained rate of metabolism (SusMR)--the rate of metabolism that can be sustained for days or weeks. We have been studying the energetics of MF1 laboratory mice during peak lactation to investigate this idea. In this article, we review some of our work in connection with three particular predictions that derive from the hypothesised links among morphology, basal metabolism, and sustained metabolic rate. By comparing groups of individuals, for example, lactating and nonlactating individuals, the patterns that emerge are broadly consistent with the hypothesis that BMR and SusMR are linked by morphology. Lactating mice have bigger organs connected with energy acquisition and utilisation, greater resting metabolic rates in the thermoneutral zone, called RMRt (approximately equivalent to BMR), and high sustainable rates of maximal energy intake. However, when attempts are made to establish these relationships across individuals within lactating mice, the associations that are anticipated are either absent or very weak and depend on shared variation due to body mass. At this level there is very little support for the suggestion that variation in RMRt (and thus BMR) is sustained by associations with SusMR.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basal Metabolism / physiology*
  • Body Weight / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Female
  • Lactation / physiology
  • Mice
  • Reproduction / physiology