Advancing “Ecology’s Big Hot Idea”

Principal Investigator(s): 

David Atkinson

A hugely influential theory, which has been called "ecology's big hot idea", is based on how body size and temperature set the pace of life, and so determine the speed of many biological and ecological processes. These include:

• the rates at which organisms grow, develop, and die
• how fast animal and plant populations can grow
• how crowded they can become
• how rapidly food and greenhouse gases can be produced by ecosystems

This theory - the Metabolic Theory of Ecology - therefore relates to many areas of great public concern including food production, conservation of populations, and global warming. However, substantial deviations from the predictions of this theory have prompted me to explore ways of improving the theory. Using data on diverse organisms ranging from microbes to mammals and also from our heated experimental ponds, I aim to test assumptions and predictions of alternative metabolic theories of ecology, including investigating:

  • how body or key organ surface areas affect the relationship between body size and oxygen consumption 
  • how evolutionary adaptation by organisms to environmental temperature affects the response of population growth rate to short-term temperature change
  • how the balance between carbon gain and loss from ecosystems is affected by temperature

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