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What is Adaptation?

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  • Last Updated : 04 Sep, 2022
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Any organic, living system that performs as a distinct individual unit is referred to as an organism in biology. All living things are made up of cells (cell theory). Taxonomy separates species into protists, bacteria, and archaea, which are unicellular microorganisms, or multicellular animals, plants, and fungi. All kinds of creatures are able to reproduce, grow and develop, maintain themselves, and respond to stimuli to some extent. A few examples of multicellular animals that distinguish specialized tissues and organs throughout development are beetles, squids, tetrapods, mushrooms, and vascular plants.


The term “adaptation” refers to a change in an organism’s structure and function as a result of a natural process that makes the organism more suited to endure and proliferate in a given environment.

Types of Adaptations

The types of adaptations include

  • Structural Adaptations: Structural adaptations are modifications made to an organism’s structure to help it better adapt to its surroundings. These structural alterations have an impact on an animal on numerous levels, and because they are highly apparent adaptations, one can completely recognize them with the unaided eye.

Example – How desert plants have evolved to the dry, arid climate, where there is a scarcity of water and high temperatures. Because there is less water available in the desert, plants known as succulents have adapted by storing water inside of themselves.

  • Behavioural Adaptation: The modification of an organism’s behavior to help it survive better in a given environment is known as behavioral adaptation. It can be difficult to spot behavioral adaptations, and it frequently takes thorough field and laboratory research to bring them to light.

Example – Because there is more food available in the south during the winter, birds migrate there. However, some birds move in order to breed.

  • Physiological Adaptations: A physiological adaptation is a bodily function that enhances an organism’s capacity to reproduce and survive in a given environment. These adaptations can be the various ways in which an organism reacts to environmental stimuli. Since the majority of these changes are based on body chemistry and metabolism, they are normally invisible from the outside. To track these kinds of Adaptations, laboratory investigations that assess the composition of various physiological fluids are frequently required.

Example – To prevent heat loss, an animal living in a cold climate will have characteristics like thick coats and short ears. Shivering to produce more heat as it gets chilly is the physiological adaptation in this case.

  • Coadaptation: Co-adaptation is the process by which two or more species that are symbiotically dependent on one another for survival adjust to new conditions.

Example – Long beaks assist hummingbirds collect nectar from particular plants, where they are then pollinated as a result. The pollen grains are dispersed in this manner, and the hummingbirds are fed.


The ability of an organism to adapt to its environment and change through time is what is meant by the term “adaptation theory,” commonly known as the “survival of the fittest” idea. Charles Darwin, a scientist who carried out tests on the Galapagos island in the 1830s, is credited with developing the hypothesis. Many other scientists, like Empedocles, Aristotle, William Paley, Lamarck, and Buffon, agreed that species change over time before Darwin did, but they did not comprehend the fundamental causes of these changes or that adaptation is a continuous process without a final form.

According to the adaptation theory, extinction, genetic change, and habitat tracking are the other three changes that occur along with habitat change.

  1. Habitat Tracking: when an organism that was once a part of the ecosystem discovers another one that is comparable to the one it once called home.
  2. Extinction: Species gradually die out and go extinct when they are unable to adapt to the new habitat or move on and find a new place to live in.
  3. Genetic Change: Natural selection, or genetic variation, enables an organism to live in a specific environment more successfully than other species in that area.

Adaptation to Cold Climate

  • Animal Adaptation: 
    • Penguins preen to arrange their feathers.
    • Penguins may tuck their flippers close to their bodies in order to preserve heat.
    • They might shudder as well to produce more heat.
    • Polar bears are dependent on a thick covering of insulating fur that covers a layer of fat that provides warmth because they dwell in one of the world’s coldest climates.
  • Plant Adaptation: 
    • The thick bark of coniferous trees serves as a barrier against the cold. They have flexible branches and a cone-shaped form that enable them to withstand heavy snowfall.
    • Low-growing and compact plant species include cushion plants. They are able to avoid the strong mountain winds and water loss that come with high winds thanks to their low and compact form. The plant can also trap heat in the winter and cool air in the summer thanks to its adaptability.

Adaptation to Desert Environment

  • Animal Adaptation
    • The same as camels, who consume the least amount of water each day.
    • Urine concentration excretion.
    • Much busier at night than during the day, like a kangaroo rat.
    • Growing light-colored fur to absorb sunlight and lower body temperature.
  • Plant Adaptation
    • Establishing a cactus-like deeper root system.
    • Cactus-like reduction in leaves and, hence, transpiration
    • Storing wet stuff in succulents’ juicy stems, roots, and other body parts.
    • The cuticle on leaves or other aerial components.

Adaptation to Aquatic Habitat

  • Animal Adaptation:
    • Whales and dolphins are mammals that breathe through nostrils on top of their heads called a blowhole.
    • The capacity of dolphins to use echolocation to learn about their surroundings is one of their most crucial adaptations.
    • Fish have gills to breathe oxygen in the water and fins to move through the water and steer their bodies.
    • Fish-like body with smooth lines.
  • Plant Adaptation:
    • The waxy covering covers the lotus’s entire body.
    • Sliced leaves to avoid the water flow.
    • Certain plants have specialized pollination mechanisms.

Causes of Adaptation

Natural selection or mutation could lead to adaptation. The rapid genetic alteration known as a mutation may be accidental or random. Any alteration to the DNA’s nucleotide sequence and the replacement of a single pair of nucleotides will result in mutation. While some mutations may be favorable to an organism’s survival in the struggle for life, others may be destructive to humans.

Natural selection is the process through which people with features that increase their chances of survival will persist in a given environment whereas people with less beneficial qualities will perish under environmental pressure. Resources in a place are fixed or scarce. The local species compete with one another for the resources that are available. Some people in a group have characteristics—structural or behavioral—that help them survive and procreate more successfully. Some individuals exhibit variable variants that have a reproductive advantage and generate more offspring than other species in the struggle for survival. Any unfavorable variation eliminates them, putting that organism at a selective disadvantage.



A group of organisms can adjust permanently over time to a changing environment through the process of adaptation.

Acclimatization refers to an organism’s fast, transitory adaptation to a changing environment.

Adaptation is irreversible.

As soon as the antecedent criteria are satisfied, acclimatization can be reversed.

Adaptation takes place across several generations.

Over the course of its existence, a creature becomes acclimated.

For a species to survive and continue, evolutionarily speaking, adaptation is a gradual, long-lasting change.

Acclimatization is a brief, transient transformation that can be undone once the pre-existing circumstances are satisfied.

Importance of Adaptation

For living things to survive, adaptation is crucial. Animals that can’t shift with their surroundings pass away. Genetic alterations have led to these adaptations. The altered genes are passed on to the next generation of animals by the survivors. Natural selection is what we call this.

Adaptations like coloration and camouflage shield them from predators. Animals in hazardous environments are more likely to survive for longer thanks to DNA mutations, and these attributes of survival are passed on to subsequent generations. Numerous animals can survive and thrive on earth thanks to these adaptations.

Charles Darwin researched two islands’ turtles. On one island, there were turtles with small legs, straight shells, and food that was close to the ground. A few turtles relocated to another island because there was more food there. Longer-legged turtles were able to survive. Over time, their shells rounded and their necks became longer. As a result of these changes in their species, the population of the new island increased.

FAQs on Adaptation

Question 1: What does an adaptation mean in ecology and evolutionary biology?


Adaptation, as used in ecology and evolutionary biology, is the process through which an organism modifies its behavior, physiology, or structural makeup in order to better fit or survive in its constantly changing environment. Nature requires change, and the only species that can adapt its physical or behavioral traits to the constantly shifting environment will be able to survive. For instance, a large variety of animals disguise themselves to stay safe.

Question 2: What distinguishes behavioral adaptations from structural adaptations?


The following are the main distinctions between behavioral and structural adaptations:

  • While new body parts may grow or existing ones may be modified in structural adaptations, the physical features of the animals do not change in behavioral adaptations; instead, the creatures start acting differently in order to survive, but their physical structures do not change.
  • A structural adaptation is the development of scales in reptiles to shield their skin from sharp rocks and other things on the ground.
  • A form of behavioral adaptation is the migration of birds in search of better food sources or for the purpose of reproduction.

Question 3: What are camels adaptations?


Camels have broad, flat feet that help them balance their weight on the sand. They have thick hair on top to give shade but sparse fur all around the body for quick heat escape.

Question 4: What is the importance of adaptation?


For living things to survive, adaptation is crucial. Animals that can’t shift with their surroundings pass away. Genetic alterations have led to these adaptations. The altered genes are passed on to the next generation of animals by the survivors.

Question 5: Where do adaptations come from?


Evolution is the cause of adaptation. A species changes over a lengthy period of time through evolution. Usually, mutations or accidental changes in a gene induce adaptations to happen. A plant or animal with a particular mutation may be able to survive longer than members of the same species without the mutation.

Question 6: What is human adaptation?


A subfield of the larger science of biological anthropology is the study of human adaptation. Human adaptation is concerned with the adaptability with which people, as both individuals and as a group, meet environmental problems through both biological and behavioral/cultural strategies.

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