The effects of body mass and temperature on metabolic rate (MR) are among the most widely examined physiological relationships. Recently, these relationships have been incorporated into the metabolic theory of ecology (MTE) that links the ecology of populations, communities and ecosystems to the MR of individual organisms. The fundamental equation of MTE derives the relation between mass and MR using first principles and predicts the temperature dependence of MR based on biochemical kinetics. It is a deliberately simple, zeroth-order approximation that represents a baseline against which variation in real biological systems can be examined. In the present study, we evaluate the fundamental equation of MTE against other more parameter-rich models for MR using an information-theoretic approach to penalize the inclusion of additional parameters. Using a comparative database of MR measurements for 1359 species, from 11 groups ranging from prokaryotes to mammals, and spanning 16 orders of magnitude in mass and a 59°C range in body temperature, we show that differences between taxa in the mass and temperature dependence of MR are sufficiently large as to be retained in the best model for MR despite the requirement for estimation of 22 more parameters than the fundamental equation of MTE.