Basal metabolic rate and energetics of reproduction in therian mammals

Nature. 1986 Jun 12-18;321(6071):690-3. doi: 10.1038/321690a0.


Traditionally, the fact that reproduction in eutherian (= placental) mammals tends towards prolonged intrauterine development and short lactation has been interpreted as an evolutionary advance over the metatherian (= marsupial) short gestation and prolonged lactation. However, it has recently been postulated that marsupial reproduction involves low initial energy investment and may be advantageous by minimizing energy loss if conditions necessitate early termination. Moreover, because marsupials have basal metabolic rates (BMRs) 30% lower than those of most eutherians, it has been suggested that daily and total energy expenditures during reproduction may also be lower. We have now tested the predictions that low BMR is maintained during reproduction and that initial investment is lower in marsupials. Using indirect calorimetry, we have made the first longitudinal measurements of energy expenditure during reproduction for a marsupial and for two eutherian species with low BMRs. We find that initial investment is lowest in a eutherian and total energetic expenditures were greatest for the marsupial. We also find that, relative to BMR, all three species have increased mean maternal resting metabolic rates (RMRs) during both gestation and lactation; this is the first evidence that mammals with low BMRs can substantially elevate metabolism for prolonged periods during gestation and lactation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Female
  • Lactation
  • Mammals / physiology*
  • Marsupialia / physiology*
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Pregnancy
  • Reproduction*
  • Shrews / physiology*