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The decoupled nature of basal metabolic rate and body temperature in endotherm evolution

Avaria-Llautureo, J., Hernández, C. E., Rodríguez-Serrano, E. and Venditti, C. (2019) The decoupled nature of basal metabolic rate and body temperature in endotherm evolution. Nature, 572. pp. 651-654. ISSN 0028-0836

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-1476-9


The origins of endothermy in birds and mammals are important events in vertebrate evolution. Endotherms can maintain their body temperature (Tb) over a wide range of ambient temperatures primarily using the heat that is generated continuously by their high basal metabolic rate (BMR)1. There is also an important positive feedback loop as Tb influences BMR1,2,3. Owing to this interplay between BMRs and Tb, many ecologists and evolutionary physiologists posit that the evolution of BMR and Tb must have been coupled during the radiation of endotherms3,4,5, changing with similar trends6,7,8. However, colder historical environments might have imposed strong selective pressures on BMR to compensate for increased rates of heat loss and to keep Tb constant9,10,11,12. Thus, adaptation to cold ambient temperatures through increases in BMR could have decoupled BMR from Tb and caused different evolutionary routes to the modern diversity in these traits. Here we show that BMR and Tb were decoupled in approximately 90% of mammalian phylogenetic branches and 36% of avian phylogenetic branches. Mammalian BMRs evolved with rapid bursts but without a long-term directional trend, whereas Tb evolved mostly at a constant rate and towards colder bodies from a warmer-bodied common ancestor. Avian BMRs evolved predominantly at a constant rate and without a long-term directional trend, whereas Tb evolved with much greater rate heterogeneity and with adaptive evolution towards colder bodies. Furthermore, rapid shifts that lead to both increases and decreases in BMRs were linked to abrupt changes towards colder ambient temperatures—although only in mammals. Our results suggest that natural selection effectively exploited the diversity in mammalian BMRs under diverse, often-adverse historical thermal environments.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Biological Sciences > Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
ID Code:85675
Publisher:Nature Research


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