William Joyce, Daniel W. White, Peter B. Raven, and Tobias Wang
Vascular resistance and conductance are reciprocal indices of vascular tone that are often assumed to be interchangeable. However, in most animals in vivo, blood flow (i.e. cardiac output) typically varies much more than arterial blood pressure. When blood flow changes at a constant pressure, the relationship between conductance and blood flow is linear, whereas the relationship between resistance and blood flow is non-linear. Thus, for a given change in blood flow, the change in resistance depends on the starting point, whereas the attendant change in conductance is proportional to the change in blood flow regardless of the starting conditions. By comparing the effects of physical activity at different temperatures or between species – concepts at the heart of comparative cardiovascular physiology – we demonstrate that the difference between choosing resistance or conductance can be marked. We also explain here how the ratio of conductance in the pulmonary and systemic circulations provides a more intuitive description of cardiac shunt patterns in the reptilian cardiovascular system than the more commonly used ratio of resistance. Finally, we posit that, although the decision to use conductance or resistance should be made on a case-by-case basis, in most circumstances, conductance is a more faithful portrayal of cardiovascular regulation in vertebrates.