A Sceptics View: “Kleiber’s Law” or the “3/4 Rule” is neither a Law nor a Rule but Rather an Empirical Approximation

  • Hulbert A
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Early studies showed the metabolic rate (MR) of different-sized animals was not directly related to body mass. The initial explanation of this difference, the “surface law”, was replaced by the suggestion that MR be expressed relative to massn, where the scaling exponent “n” be empirically determined. Basal metabolic rate (BMR) conditions were developed and BMR became important clinically, especially concerning thyroid diseases. Allometry, the technique previously used to empirically analyse relative growth, showed BMR of endotherms varied with 0.73–0.74 power of body mass. Kleiber suggested that mass3/4 be used, partly because of its easy calculation with a slide rule. Later studies have produced a range of BMR scaling exponents, depending on species measured. Measurement of maximal metabolism produced scaling exponents ranging from 0.80 to 0.97, while scaling of mammalian MR during growth display multi-phasic allometric relationships with scaling exponents >3/4 initially, followed by scaling exponents <3/4. There is no universal metabolic scaling exponent. The fact that “allometry” is an empirical technique to analyse relative change and not a biological law is discussed. Relative tissue size is an important determinant of MR. There is also a need to avoid simplistic assumptions regarding the allometry of surface area.




Hulbert, A. (2014). A Sceptics View: “Kleiber’s Law” or the “3/4 Rule” is neither a Law nor a Rule but Rather an Empirical Approximation. Systems, 2(2), 186–202. https://doi.org/10.3390/systems2020186

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