DIMACS/BIOMAPS Seminar Series on Quantitative Biology and Epidemiology.

Title: Scaling laws in organismal biology: Navigating the morass

Speaker: Joshua Weitz, Princeton University

Date: Wednesday, October 1, 2003, 1:00 pm

Location: Hill Center, Room 260, Rutgers University, Busch Campus, Piscataway, NJ


The energy usage of mammals, birds, plants, trees and even microorganisms is reported to scale allometrically with body mass to the 3/4 power. But is it really true and if so why? I will discuss the scientific history behind arguments in favor of a simple power law relationship between metabolic rate and organismal mass. Empirical data sets along with statistics, physics, mathematics, and perhaps a bit of common sense will be employed to make sense of recent attempts to ``prove'' the existence of such a scaling law. In the process, I will show evidence for breakpoints in scaling and the importance of fluctuations, as well as demonstrate that data from real vascular networks are always messier than any simple model might contend. Finally, I will speculate on whether disagreements over the metabolic scaling exponent need impact recent debates on the scaling of organismal characteristics such as rate of growth, response to temperature, and ecosystem organization.

Seminar sponsored by DIMACS/BIOMAPS Seminar Series on Quantitative Biology and Epidemiology.