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Proc Biol Sci. 2003 April 7; 270(1516): 755–763.
PMCID: PMC1691300

Scaling laws for capillary vessels of mammals at rest and in exercise.


A general derivation is presented for the scaling laws governing the size and number of capillary blood vessels in mammals. The derivation is based on the assumption of three idealized similarity principles known to apply, at least approximately, to resting mammals: (i) size-invariant blood pressure; (ii) size-invariant fraction of blood in the capillaries; and (iii) size-invariant oxygen consumption and uptake, per unit of body mass, during each heart cycle. Results indicate that the radius and length of capillaries, and the number that are open and active in the resting state, should scale with mammal mass to the powers 1/12, 5/24 and 5/8, respectively, consistent with earlier work by the author. Measurements are presented supporting the results. Physiological changes accompanying strenuous exercise are accounted for by a change in the scaling law for capillary number, from scaling exponent 5/8 to 3/4.

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Selected References

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  • Bishop CM. Heart mass and the maximum cardiac output of birds and mammals: implications for estimating the maximum aerobic power input of flying animals. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 1997 Apr 29;352(1352):447–456. [PMC free article]

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