Animals display tremendous variation in their rates of growth, reproductive output, and longevity. While the physiological and molecular mechanisms that underlie this variation remain poorly understood, the performance of the mitochondrion has emerged as a key player. Mitochondria not only impact the performance of eukaryotes via their capacity to produce ATP, but they also play a role in producing heat and reactive oxygen species and function as a major signalling hub for the cell. The papers included in this special issue emerged from a symposium titled “Inside the Black Box: The Mitochondrial Basis of Life-history Variation and Animal Performance”. Based on studies of diverse animal taxa, three distinct themes emerged from these papers. 1) When linking mitochondrial function to components of fitness, it is crucial that mitochondrial assays are performed in conditions as close as the intracellular conditions experienced by the mitochondria in vivo. 2) Functional plasticity allows mitochondria to retain their performance, as well as that of their host, over a range of exogenous conditions, and selection on mitochondrial and nuclear-derived proteins can optimize the match between the environment and the bioenergetic capacity of the mitochondrion. Finally, 3) studies of wild and wild-derived animals suggest that mitochondria play a central role in animal performance and life history strategy. Taken as a whole, we hope that these papers will foster discussion and inspire new hypotheses and innovations that will further our understanding of the mitochondrial processes that underlie variation in life history traits and animal performance.
- oxidative phosphorylation
- reactive oxygen specie
- mitonuclear (in)compatibility
- pace of life