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Physiol Biochem Zool. 2011 Jan-Feb;84(1):111-4. doi: 10.1086/658084.

Basal metabolic rate of endotherms can be modeled using heat-transfer principles and physiological concepts: reply to "can the basal metabolic rate of endotherms be explained by biophysical modeling?".

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Department of Biology, Linfield College, McMinnville, Oregon 97128, USA.


Our recent article (Roberts et al. 2010 ) proposes a mechanistic model for the relation between basal metabolic rate (BMR) and body mass (M) in mammals. The model is based on heat-transfer principles in the form of an equation for distributed heat generation within the body. The model can also be written in the form of the allometric equation BMR = aM(b), in which a is the coefficient of the mass term and b is the allometric exponent. The model generates two interesting results: it predicts that b takes the value 2/3, indicating that BMR is proportional to surface area in endotherms. It also provides an explanation of the physiological components that make up a, that is, respiratory heat loss, core-skin thermal conductance, and core-skin thermal gradient. Some of the ideas in our article have been questioned (Seymour and White 2011 ), and this is our response to those questions. We specifically address the following points: whether a heat-transfer model can explain the level of BMR in mammals, whether our test of the model is inadequate because it uses the same literature data that generated the values of the physiological variables, and whether geometry and empirical values combine to make a "coincidence" that makes the model only appear to conform to real processes.

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