The temperature-size rule in ectotherms: May a general explanation exist after all?

Richard John Walters, Mark Hassall

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201 Citations (Scopus)


The majority of ectotherms mature at a larger size at lower rearing temperatures. Although this temperature‐size rule is well established, a general explanation for this phenomenon has remained elusive. In this article, we address the problem by exploring the proximate and ultimate reasons for why a temperate grasshopper, Chorthippus brunneus, is an exception to the temperature‐size rule. Using a complete set of life‐history data to parameterize an established life‐history model, we show that it is optimal for this species to mature at a larger size at higher temperatures. We also show that plasticity in adult size is determined by the relative difference between the minimum temperature thresholds for growth and development rates. The mechanism relates to aspects of the biophysical model of van der Have and de Jong. Ectotherms that obey the temperature‐size rule are identified as having a higher temperature threshold for development rate than for growth rate; exceptions are identified as having a lower temperature threshold for development rate than for growth rate. The latter scenario may arise broadly in two ways. These are discussed in reference to the thermal biology of temperate grasshoppers and ectotherms in general.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)510-523
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2006

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