Endothermy and homeothermy are mammalian characteristics whose evolutionary origins are poorly understood. Given that fungal species rapidly lose their capacity for growth above ambient temperatures, we have proposed that mammalian endothermy enhances fitness by creating exclusionary thermal zones that protect against fungal disease. According to this view, the relative paucity of invasive fungal diseases in immunologically intact mammals relative to other infectious diseases would reflect an inability of most fungal species to establish themselves in a mammalian host. In this study, that hypothesis was tested by modeling the fitness increase with temperature versus its metabolic costs. We analyzed the tradeoff involved between the costs of the excess metabolic rates required to maintain a body temperature and the benefit gained by creating a thermal exclusion zone that protects against environmental microbes such as fungi. The result yields an optimum at 36.7°C, which closely approximates mammalian body temperatures. This calculation is consistent with and supportive of the notion that an intrinsic thermally based resistance against fungal diseases could have contributed to the success of mammals in the Tertiary relative to that of other vertebrates. IMPORTANCE Mammals are characterized by both maintaining and closely regulating high body temperatures, processes that are known as endothermy and homeothermy, respectively. The mammalian lifestyle is energy intensive and costly. The evolutionary mechanisms responsible for the emergence and success of these mammalian characteristics are not understood. This work suggests that high mammalian temperatures represent optima in the tradeoff between metabolic costs and the increased fitness that comes with resistance to fungal diseases.
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