The correlation between demography and metabolic rate: a test using the beach vole (Microtus breweri) and the meadow vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus)


This study examines the hypothesis that mammalian species with wide fluctuations in population size will have greater metabolic rates than species with smaller population fluctuations. We tested this hypothesis using two microtine rodents - the beach vole (Microtus breweri) and the meadow vole (M. pennsylvanicus). Although these species experience similar climatic regimes, eat similar foods, and have a very close phylogenetic relationship, they show marked differences in demography. Microtus pennsylvanicus is prone to large supraannual fluctuations in population size, while M. breweri is essentially acyclical. Metabolic rate (oxygen consumption) of each species was measured using open-flow respirometry at ambient temperatures ranging from 2 to 34° C. Basal metabolic rate of M. pennsylvanicus (1.81 ml O2 g-1 h-1) was significantly greater than that of M. breweri (1.39 ml O2 g-1 h-1). The lower critical temperature, estimated by continuous two-phase regression, was 28.9° C for M. pennsylvanicus and 29.8° C for M. breweri. Regression lines below thermoneutrality did not differ in slope, but the elevation for M. pennsylvanicus was significantly higher. Thus, M. pennsylvanicus has a higher metabolic rate at all temperatures examined. These results support the hypothesis that metabolic rate is positively correlated with the extent of population fluctuation. We suggest that further evidence for, or against, this hypothesis should be found by comparing closely matched species pairs, rather than resorting to confounded allometric comparisons of ecologically and phylogenetically diverse taxa. © 1991 Springer-Verlag.

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