A physical or behavioral feature of a plant or animal that enables it to survive.
by Connect Staff
While you don't want to turn an interesting classroom discussion of adaptation into a lengthy session on dictionary definitions, it may be a help to have some background on this term and its complex meanings.
The term adapt or adaptation can be confusing. Most of what we address in this issue relates to the above description. But there are also many dictionary definitions which expand our understanding of the term. For example, Websters Third New International Dictionary includes in its definition of adaptation, "1 a: the act or process of adapting, fitting, or modifying… 2: adjustment to environmental conditions: as a: adjustment of a sense organ (as the eye) to the intensity or quality of stimulation (as light) …"
Significant examples of adaptation
All life forms have adaptations so that they can: feed themselves; avoid, or protect themselves from predators; maintain water within their cells; reproduce.
Animals must maintain their body temperature within a range so that they can survive. Some animals create or find shelter, others can adjust to different temperatures.
Plants must have special adaptations that relate to the fact that, as individuals, they don't move.
Short and long term adaptation
Adaptation can refer to a short-term physiological or anatomical change. One adaptation that most living beings have is the ability to adapt. Snowshoe hares and deciduous trees adapt to the changing of the seasons, barnacles adapt to the changing of the tides, etc.
As humans, we adapt to a wide variety of situations every day. Our body chemistry is altered for a short time just by eating ice cream or having lunch. We also adapt, to some extent, to changes in our environment, even over short spans of time. An example would be the body's response to changes in temperature when blood flow is increased in hands and feet to warm them. Deer change seasonally so that their stomachs can digest differing foods, grasses and other leafy material in the summer months, and browse (buds, twigs, and woody stems) in the winter.
Adaptation to environmental changes, sometimes for reasons of survival, also occurs over incredibly long periods of time. The New York Times reported recently on new fossil evidence: "Fossils of the oldest human ancestors have been discovered in Ethiopia, where these apelike creatures lived 4.4 million years ago on a forested flood plain. Not only do they represent an entirely new species, scientists said, but they also may well be the long-sought relatives who lived close to the fateful time when the lineages leading to modern apes and Homo sapiens went their separate ways" [10/22/94].
The topics we cover in this issue of Connect address this broad field: How animals (including humans) and plants change over various periods of time, in the process adapting to new situations.
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