Letters to Nature

Nature 413, 628-631 (11 October 2001) | doi:10.1038/35098076; Received 2 January 2001; Accepted 21 August 2001

A general model for ontogenetic growth

Geoffrey B. West1,2, James H. Brown2,3 & Brian J. Enquist4

  1. Theoretical Division, MS B285, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico 87545, USA
  2. The Santa Fe Institute, 1399 Hyde Park Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501, USA
  3. Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87131, USA
  4. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721, USA

Correspondence to: Geoffrey B. West1,2 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to G.B.W. (e-mail: Email: gbw@lanl.gov).

Several equations have been proposed to describe ontogenetic growth trajectories for organisms justified primarily on the goodness of fit rather than on any biological mechanism1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Here, we derive a general quantitative model based on fundamental principles7, 8, 9 for the allocation of metabolic energy between maintenance of existing tissue and the production of new biomass. We thus predict the parameters governing growth curves from basic cellular properties10 and derive a single parameterless universal curve that describes the growth of many diverse species. The model provides the basis for deriving allometric relationships for growth rates and the timing of life history events2, 11, 12.