One of the most important events in vertebrate evolution was the acquisition of endothermy, the ability to use metabolic heat production to elevate body temperature above environmental temperature. Several verbal models have been proposed to explain the selective factors leading to the evolution of endothermy. Of these, the aerobic capacity model has received the most attention in recent years. The aerobic capacity model postulates that selection acted mainly to increase maximal aerobic capacity (or associated behavioral abilities) and that elevated resting metabolic rate evolved as a correlated response. Here we evaluate the implicit evolutionary and genetic assumptions of the aerobic capacity model. In light of this evaluation, we assess the utility of phenotypic and genetic correlations for testing the aerobic capacity model. Collectively, the available intraspecific data for terrestrial vertebrates support the notion of a positive phenotypic correlation between resting and maximal rates of oxygen consumption within species. Interspecific analyses provide mixed support for this phenotypic correlation. We argue, however, that assessments of phenotypic or genetic correlations within species and evolutionary correlations among species (from comparative data) are of limited utility, because they may not be able to distinguish between the aerobic capacity model and plausible alternatives, such as selection acting directly on aspects of thermoregulatory abilities. We suggest six sources of information that may help shed light on the selective factors important during the evolution of high aerobic metabolic rates and, ultimately, the attainment of endothermy. Of particular interest will be attempts to determine, using a combination of mechanistic physiological and quantitative-genetic approaches, whether a positive genetic correlation between resting and maximal rates of oxygen consumption is an ineluctable feature of vertebrate physiology.
Copyright 1995 The Society for the Study of Evolution.