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Ecology and Evolution 7:9098-9118 (2017)Download free pdf

The natural selection of metabolism and mass selects lifeforms from viruses to multicellular animals

Lars Witting

Abstract: I show that the natural selection of metabolism and mass can select for the major life history and allometric transitions that define lifeforms from viruses, over prokaryotes and larger unicells, to multicellular animals. The proposed selection is driven by a mass-specific metabolism that is selected as the pace of the resource handling that generates net energy for self-replication. An initial selection of mass is given by a dependence of mass-specific metabolism on mass in replicators that are close to a lower size limit. A sublinear maximum dependence selects for virus-like replicators, with no intrinsic metabolism, no cell, and practically no mass. A superlinear dependence selects for prokaryote-like self-replicating cells, with asexual reproduction and incomplete metabolic pathways. These self-replicators have selection for increased net energy, and this generates a gradual unfolding of population dynamic feed-back selection from interactive competition. The incomplete feed-back selects for larger unicells with more developed metabolic pathways, and the completely developed feed-back for multicellular animals with sexual reproduction. This model unifies the natural selection of lifeforms from viruses to multicellular animals, and it provides a parsimonious explanation where allometries and major life histories evolve from the natural selection of metabolism and mass.

This article has been certified and accepted after peer review, and published in Ecology and Evolution as open access under the Creative Commons Attribute License, with Copyright retained by the author.