Difference Between Adaptation vs Acclimation

Difference Between Adaptation vs Acclimation

Have you ever wondered how people living the Arctic are able to handle the extreme weather conditions in that portion of the planet? You might also be curious as to how people living in the desert are able to survive in the extreme heat. You might think to yourself that their survival is a result of adaptation vs acclimation.

Even more, how do these conditions vary from each other? To give you a hint, the key distinction lies in the permanence of the change. However, in this piece, we will look at these two processes at a deeper level so that you can easily tell one from the other.

Definition of Adaptation

Adaptation is the process by which an organism adjusts to its environment to be more capable of survival. Just like how a craftsman would make adjustments to furniture to make it fit a given space, the environment triggers the change in an organism’s genetic makeup to give it a better chance at survival.

Since the change is genetic, it does not happen quickly or at once. The changes can occur between generations. For example, the natural habitat of fish is an ocean or river. But with the increasing land mass and decreasing spread of water, it can adapt to survive longer than its previous generations would on land.

To provide a more concrete example, the finches in Galapagos used to have shorter beaks, but some have adapted to have longer beaks through time to allow them to reach more spaces and feed better. Nature allows organisms to compete to determine who will pass on genes to their future offspring, so organisms do not stay the way they are in a changing environment.

Definition of Acclimation

Acclimation is what defines an individual’s change in reception and accommodation to the change in the environment it is living in. In this case, there is not necessarily a modification in genetic makeup but rather in the way an animal, person, or other organism perceives the environment around it. Since the variation is not permanent nor long term, it is quite easy to reverse it.

It is just like how a person who lives in a very cold country would get used to the cold weather but can easily adjust during the summer or when he or she moves to a location with a generally warm climate.

Therefore, being acclimated is triggered by a change in one’s physical surroundings, and this adjustment can happen quickly or within a few years, depending on the organism’s willingness to adjust.

Since this is a temporary adjustment, it is not considered an evolutionary process. In the example above of people getting used to the cold weather, acclimation is the answer to whether one is undergoing acclimation vs adaptation.

Main Differences Between Adaptation vs Acclimation

These scenarios should have provided you with a better context, but to dig deeper into the difference between adaptation and acclimation, let us look at the tabular representation of each below.

Basis of ComparisonAdaptationAcclimation
DefinitionContinual and permanent change in an organism’s physical or behavioural characteristicsSwift and irregular change in an organism’s physical or behavioural characteristics
Triggered byChange in environment and nicheChange in environment
OccurrencePermanent and irreversibleTemporary and flexible
Length of changeOver generationsWithin the lifetime of the organism
Inspired byEvolutionClimate change

Difference Between Adaptation and Acclimation: Conclusion

To conclude, when evaluating the difference between acclimation and adaptation, there are various clues to look at. Are we talking about changes to the DNA level or just a quickly observable reaction? Are we looking at a changeover of traits between generations of species? Is the change necessary for the survival of the entire species for the future, or is it just for the survival of the species at the present? It is quite easy to tell one from the other.

One great example of adaptation is how the Homo sapiens species or humans have increased their brain size to cater to increased mental requirements. Alternatively, one example of acclimation takes place when our blood pressure levels drop at high altitude to allow increased blood flow and better chances of survival. Both of these processes are essential for one’s persistence.