Acclimatization and Adaptation: The Differences

The human body goes through many changes within a lifetime. Plants and animals also experience changes. Some of these are temporary reactions to environmental changes.  Genetic changes over thousands of years also contribute to our modern-day presentation. All living things go through adjustments in the face of climate change, pollution, and variation in natural resources. These are two different terms for these types of changes. The names are often accidentally interchanged and used improperly. A full understanding of the details behind each term can help to further understand how they affect our humanity.


Acclimatization can take place in all life forms. Humans, plants, and animals all undergo this survival strategy. When moved to a new environment changes must often take place to ensure the continuation of life. Acclimatization is a short-term change in how our bodies respond to the environment.  Animals may grow thicker fur coats in the winter and plants adjust to indoor air quality when brought in from outside. They use less water in response to lower lights and less evaporative sun exposure.  These modifications, however, are not permanent. Once summer comes, an animal sheds its extra fur and a plant resumes its normal filtering process. Acclimatization aims to aid in the survival and well-being of the organism.


Adaptation occurs over many generations. These changes take place at the genetic level and cooperate with natural selection. Adaptation is the process referred to when evolutionary changes are discussed. These changes are not limited to one individual. They are modifications that affect an entire population. This can be due to events like climate changes, dietary modifications, physical necessities. Major environmental changes are likely to elicit the prevalence of varying survival rates. When a genetic trait is responsible for a weakness it may not be passed down through generations. Plants, animals, and humans with weaknesses may not survive long enough to reproduce. They also die off at faster rates. The more resilient specimens tend to survive.  Simply put, the traits that benefit survival persist within a group, while others may not.


Environmental changes can be responsible for both acclimatization and adaptation. Environments can be changed by natural elements, as well as altered by human inventions. Migrations may also leave populations in need of a modification to survive in their new atmosphere. For example, the peppered moth varies in shades of color. Manmade pollution during the industrial revolution discolored the trees surrounding the city. The lighter colored varieties were more easily spotted by predators, leaving the dark ones behind to reproduce. These darker colored moths became the survivors in natural selection. This is an example of adaptation.

High altitudes cause difficulty breathing, and illness in many people. Your body makes adjustments to acquire enough oxygen while at these high elevation levels. A temporary change occurs in amount of red blood cells your body produces. At first, your body responds by breathing faster and increasing your heart rate. This is all due to acclimatization. These changes are temporary, and your body returns to its normal functioning once you return to a lower elevation.

Adaptation can also occur in response to higher altitudes. Entire populations that live in the mountains have some physical differences. They may have a larger, more rounded chest cavity to allow for larger lungs. This helps allow for more air to be inhaled, thus ensuring that the body receives enough oxygen. The arteries and capillaries in Tibetan natives have shown to be wider, as well. Genetic changes due to adaptation are theorized to occur in populations that inhabit a new environment for many generations.


Ongoing research is helping scientists to better understand both adaptation and acclimatization. Mountain inhabitants from different parts of the world are of special interest. The genetic changes are different in Tibetan natives in comparison to highland Ethiopians. Extensive genetic studies help to show the specific genes affected by years of adaptation.

Acclimatization is also an interest of scientists. Some people seem to adjust more easily to changes in environments, while others take longer achieve a comfortable modification. Animals are of special interest, as urban environments are changing their habitat immensely. Acclimatization results in adjustment to different diets, living spaces, and reactions to humans. Urban wildlife specialists continue to process the effects of industrial cities on animals.

Acclimatization and adaptation are two very different terms with some similar interests. They both contribute to the survival of the species. Acclimatization is a more short term, individual modification. Adaptation affects an entire population and happens over several generations. Adaptation also happens at a genetic level in response to natural selection. Changes in environment can trigger both of these actions. Our planet is ever changing and living things must adjust to survive. Both acclimatization and adaptation help to achieve these goals.


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