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A general model for ontogenetic growth


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.

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Figure 1: Four typical examples of fits to growth curves (solid lines) using equation (5).
Figure 2: Universal growth curve.


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We thank E. Charnov for discussing the role of reproduction in our formalism, L. Thomson for supplying data on salmon and P. Taylor for comments. Support from the National Science Foundation and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis are gratefully acknowledged. J.H.B. and G.B.W. also acknowledge the support of the Thaw Charitable Trust and a Packard Interdisciplinary Science Grant.

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Correspondence to Geoffrey B. West.

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West, G., Brown, J. & Enquist, B. A general model for ontogenetic growth. Nature 413, 628–631 (2001).

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