The Starvation-Predation Trade-Off Predicts Trends in Body Size, Muscularity, and Adiposity between and within Taxa

Andrew D. Higginson, John M. McNamara, Alasdair I. Houston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


The storage of lipids to buffer energy shortage may incur such costs as increased vulnerability to predation, and animals may be more muscular in order to reduce such costs. If muscle and lipid mass interact to determine survival, then both the muscularity and the adiposity of animals will be affected by factors such as predator density and food availability. Here we explore how adiposity and muscularity may depend on such factors. We confirm the expectation that adiposity should decrease with the risk of predation and increase with the frequency of interruptions to the food supply. More surprisingly, the predicted relationships between skeletal size, muscularity, and adiposity qualitatively depended on various factors: for example, adiposity should increase with foraging costs only for small animals and should decrease with total body mass if competition for food is intense. Furthermore, if the locomotive costs of carrying lipids are low, then adiposity should increase with body mass, whereas if such costs are high, then adiposity should decrease with body mass. These predictions are supported by observations of variation between and within species. Our approach demonstrates that broad patterns of body composition can be understood in terms of the fundamental ecological trade-off between starvation and predation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)338-350
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2012

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