Energetics and longevity in birds

L. J. Furness, J. R. Speakman

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)


The links between energy expenditure and ageing are different at different levels of enquiry. When studies have examined the relationships between different species within a given class the association is generally negative-animals with greater metabolism per gram of tissue live shorter lives. Within species, or between classes (e.g. between birds and mammals) the association is the opposite-animals with higher metabolic rates live longer. We have previously shown in mammals that the negative association between lifespan and metabolic rate is in fact an artefact of using resting rather than daily energy expenditure, and of failing to adequately take into account the confounding effects of body size and the lack of phylogenetic independence of species data. When these factors are accounted for, across species of mammals, the ones with higher metabolism also have the largest lifetime expenditures of energy-consistent with the inter-class and intra-specific data. A previous analysis in birds did not yield the same pattern, but this may have been due to a lack of sufficient power in the analysis. Here we present an analysis of a much enlarged data set (> 300 species) for metabolic and longevity traits in birds. These data show very similar patterns to those in mammals. Larger individuals have longer lives and lower per-gram resting and daily energy expenditures, hence there is a strong negative relationship between longevity and mass-specific metabolism. This relationship disappears when the confounding effects of body mass and phylogeny are accounted for. Across species of birds, lifetime expenditure of energy per gram of tissue based on both daily and resting energy expenditure is positively related to metabolic intensity, mirroring these statistical relationships in mammals and synergising with the positive associations of metabolism with lifespan within species and between vertebrate classes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-87
Number of pages13
Issue number2-3
Early online date25 Jun 2008
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2008


  • birds
  • daily energy expenditure
  • lifespan
  • phylogeny
  • rate of living theory
  • metabolic rate
  • mitochondrial uncoupling proteins
  • maximum life-span
  • hydrogen-peroxide production
  • fatty-acid unsaturation
  • all-cause mortality
  • metabolic-rate
  • proton leak
  • caenorhabditis-elegans
  • phylogenetic analysis
  • body-size


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