Defining comparative physiology: results from an online survey and systematic review

A. J. Basile, S. D. Kirkton, M. S. Hedrick, H. V. Carey, K. L. Sweazea

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


August Krogh’s 1929 principle is referenced as the cornerstone of comparative physiology (CP). However, there are diverse views as to what type of research falls under the CP approach. This study had three aims: 1) determine how CP is defined through an online survey (OS) of physiologists and a systematic review (SR), 2) put forth an updated definition of CP by summarizing OS and SR results, and 3) outline the numerous CP research approaches. Professional physiology societies (n = 54) were invited to share the OS with their members, and a SR was conducted, which yielded 197 and 70 definitions, respectively. The three most common words in descending order in the OS definitions were “different,” “animals,” and “species” and in the SR definitions, “animals,” “species,” and “organisms.” The three most prevalent themes from the OS and SR definitions were comparing/differences/diversity across species (78% and 51%, respectively), response to the environment/ecology (28% and 43%, respectively), and included evolution or adaptation (24% and 60%, respectively). Ten research approaches were identified, which include broad comparison (i.e., many species generalization), specific comparison (e.g., 2 species; for traits that are different, exaggerated, extreme, missing, or not induced), or comparison while considering evolution (i.e., evolutionary physiology), ecology (i.e., ecophysiology), or human physiology/medicine. Only 5% and 33% of OS and SR definitions described or mentioned Krogh’s principle. In conclusion, CP can best be defined as a compilation of research approaches that utilize different types of comparisons to elucidate physiological mechanisms and not simply comparing physiologies as the name implies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)R938-R944
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • August Krogh
  • Comparative physiology
  • Physiology
  • Research approaches

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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