Endotherms, ectotherms, and mitochondrial genome-size variation

J Mol Evol. 1993 Sep;37(3):281-95. doi: 10.1007/BF00175505.


The patterns of mitochondrial genome-size variation were investigated in endothermic and ectothermic species to examine the role that thermal habit might play in the evolution of animal mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Data on mtDNA size (the modal, largest, and smallest mtDNA reported within a species), the percent variation in mtDNA size (the difference in size between the largest and smallest mtDNAs divided by the model genome size for a given species), and the frequency of heteroplasmic individuals (those carrying more than one mtDNA length variant) were tabulated from the literature. Endotherms showed significantly less variation in mtDNA size and tended to have smaller mtDNAs than ectotherms. Further comparisons between endothermic and ectothermic vertebrates revealed that the largest genome and the percent variation in genome size were significantly smaller in the former than the latter. There was no difference between endotherms and ectotherms in the frequency of heteroplasmy. These data are discussed in light of two hypotheses: (1) more intense directional and purifying selection for small genome size in the cytoplasms of species with higher metabolic rates and (2) reduced mutation pressures generating mtDNA size variants in endotherms relative to those in ectotherms. The general trends are consistent with the selection hypothesis but in certain species mtDNA size variation appears to be governed by mutational pressures. To test these competing hypotheses further, comparative studies are proposed where mitochondrial genome size is quantified in sister taxa and tissue types with very different metabolic rates.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animal Population Groups / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Basal Metabolism
  • Biological Evolution
  • Body Temperature Regulation / genetics*
  • DNA Replication
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / chemistry*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Gene Frequency
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genome
  • Molecular Weight
  • Mutation
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Species Specificity
  • Time Factors


  • DNA, Mitochondrial