Variation in the link between oxygen consumption and ATP production, and its relevance for animal performance

Proc Biol Sci. 2015 Aug 7;282(1812):20151028. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2015.1028.


It is often assumed that an animal's metabolic rate can be estimated through measuring the whole-organism oxygen consumption rate. However, oxygen consumption alone is unlikely to be a sufficient marker of energy metabolism in many situations. This is due to the inherent variability in the link between oxidation and phosphorylation; that is, the amount of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) generated per molecule of oxygen consumed by mitochondria (P/O ratio). In this article, we describe how the P/O ratio can vary within and among individuals, and in response to a number of environmental parameters, including diet and temperature. As the P/O ratio affects the efficiency of cellular energy production, its variability may have significant consequences for animal performance, such as growth rate and reproductive output. We explore the adaptive significance of such variability and hypothesize that while a reduction in the P/O ratio is energetically costly, it may be associated with advantages in terms of somatic maintenance through reduced production of reactive oxygen species. Finally, we discuss how considering variation in mitochondrial efficiency, together with whole-organism oxygen consumption, can permit a better understanding of the relationship between energy metabolism and life history for studies in evolutionary ecology.

Keywords: life history; mitochondrial coupling efficiency; oxidative stress; reactive oxygen species; trade-off; uncoupling.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Invertebrates / metabolism
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Oxygen Consumption*
  • Vertebrates / metabolism


  • Adenosine Triphosphate