Biology ETDs

Publication Date



Many ecological patterns and processes are functions of metabolism (Brown 2004), meaning the acquisition, transformation, and allocation of energy, materials, and information within the bodies of individuals and among members of human and other animal societies. Individual metabolic rate should influence behavior by determining the energy available for action as well as the rate at which the body requires fuel. First, I test a key prediction of the metabolic theory of ecology (MTE), that biotic interaction rates are characteristic functions of temperature. Findings support this prediction and suggest that herbivory, predation, parasitism, parasitoidy, and competition increase exponentially with temperature and that this increase echoes that of individual metabolic rates. Second, I extend a metabolic framework to foraging patterns and space use of traditional human societies. Together with colleagues, I build on Hamilton (2007) to offer a model that formally incorporates hypothesized mechanisms affecting population sizes and densities and territory sizes: temperature, productivity, seasonality, and trophic level (degree of carnivory). We test this model on a dataset of 333 traditional foraging societies using multiple linear regression. Interactions between explanatory variables were important, and the influence of temperature, productivity, and seasonality often depended on trophic level. In addition, coastal productivity allowed marine foragers to disassociate themselves from terrestrial energetic constraints and maintain high population densities, small territory sizes, and thus high levels of cultural diversity. A metabolic perspective is useful for interpreting patterns in large scale human ecology and suggesting underlying mechanisms. Third, I argue for a macroecological approach to human ecology and suggest the value of a metabolic perspective using examples from human foraging ecology, life history, space use, population structure, disease ecology, cultural and linguistic diversity patterns, and industrial and urban systems. The ability of a metabolic framework to inform our understanding of behavior, from the interaction rates of small ectotherms to cultural diversity and urban activity patterns in Homo sapiens, suggests the power and promise of this approach.




metabolic ecology macroecology

Document Type


Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

UNM Biology Department

First Committee Member (Chair)

Moses, Melanie

Second Committee Member

Kaplan, Hillard

Third Committee Member

Hamilton, Marcus