On the double: how high metabolic rates accelerate evolution

How High-Throughput Compute helps to show how new species of cold-blooded animals appear faster in warmer climates

Some animals live their lives faster than others. These differences are captured by a measure known as metabolic rate. Mice and small birds have high metabolism and live highly active but short lives. Whales and elephants, on the other hand, have lower metabolic rates, live longer and slower, and produce less offspring.

An animal’s metabolic rate, how fast and long they live, can be influenced by climate. Cold-blooded animals that cannot regulate body heat by themselves, have a metabolic rate that depends on their environment’s temperature.

But does this also influence how fast new species appear?

To test this, Antonin Machac, a biologist based at the Charles University in Prague, looked into the history of salamander evolution. Using EGI’s High-Throughput Compute, he analysed genetic and environmental data related to many different salamander species across the world.

Antonin and his colleagues used the HTC resources provided by Metacentrum (the National Grid Infrastructure of the Czech Republic) to run statistical inference software to analyse their data.

“Refined statistical methods have many advantages but further increase the computational cost of data analyses,” he says. “Consequently, much of the research in biology would be impossible without High-Throughput Compute.

The conclusions suggest that temperature has a strong effect on how fast new species appear.

The results, published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, show that new salamander species appear more often in tropical climates. This means that the higher metabolic rate of tropical salamanders is probably responsible for accelerated speciation rates.

Taken together, the conclusions suggest that temperature has a strong effect on how fast new species appear and it might prove as an important insight into how the diversity of animal life originated.

Salamanders are cold-blooded animals with a metabolic rate depending on external temperature. Source: wikicommons


A. Machac et al. (2012), Journal of Evolutionary Biology (abstract)