The metabolic theory of ecology: Prospects and challenges for plant biology

Charles A. Price*, James F. Gilooly, Andrew P. Allen, Joshua S. Weitz, Karl J. Niklas

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)


Summary: The metabolic theory of ecology (MTE) as applied to the plant sciences aims to provide a general synthesis for the structure and functioning of plants from organelles to ecosystems. MTE builds from simple assumptions of individual metabolism to make predictions about phenomena across a wide range of scales, from individual plant structure and function to community dynamics and global nutrient cycles. The scope of its predictions include morphological allometry, biomass partitioning, vascular network design, and life history phenomena at the individual level; size-frequency distributions, population growth rates, and energetic equivalence at the community level; and the flux, turnover and storage of nutrients at the ecosystem level. Here, we provide an overview of MTE, by considering its assumptions and predictions at these different levels of organization and explaining how the model integrates phenomena among all of these scales. We highlight the model's many successes in predicting novel patterns and draw attention to areas in which gaps remain between observations and MTE's assumptions and predictions. Considering the theory as a whole, we argue that MTE has made a significant contribution in furthering our understanding of those unifying aspects of the structure and function of plants, populations, communities, and ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)696-710
Number of pages15
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2010


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