Ever wondered how organisms are able to thrive across a range of environmental conditions? We shall explore everything about Acclimatization in this article.

What is Acclimatization?

The term “Acclimatization” refers to a process where an organism adjusts to changes in its environment with respect to temperature, altitude, humidity, pH, light, salinity, pressure and presence of certain chemicals.

Acclimatization can be defined as follows:

Acclimatization is defined as a process where an organism adjusts its behaviour or physiology in response to changes in its environment. These phenotypic traits are often noticed within a short period and within the life time of the organism. It is also reversible across most cases.

How is Acclimatization Different from Adaptation?

From a biological perspective, acclimatization is restricted by the genome of the individual. The same restriction does not hold true as the process happens over multiple generations, thereby facilitating the acquisition or recombination of genetic traits which improve chances of survival or performance in a new environment.

For example, tomatoes are plants that grow best in temperate climates. However, they can survive freezing temperatures if the temperature drop happens over a few days rather than occurring suddenly. This short-term “adjustment” is how the tomato acclimatizes to the harsh temperature. On the other hand, some plants which are found in deserts bloom only at night – this adaptation ensures that the plant does not dehydrate in the extreme desert heat. Additionally, desert plants also have a waxy coating on their leaves which helps with dehydration as well.

Acclimatization in Humans

High Altitudes

One of the best known examples of acclimatization in humans can be observed when travelling to high altitude locations – such as tall mountains. For instance, if an individual hikes to 3,000 meters above sea level and stays there for a period of 1-3 days, they become acclimatized to 3,000 meters. If the same individual hikes to 4000 meters in altitude, then their body has to acclimatize once again. Some of the changes that takes place during acclimatization to high altitudes involves:

  • Increased production of Red blood cells
  • Increased pressure in pulmonary arteries – thereby forcing blood into sections of the lungs which are usually not used during normal breathing at lower altitudes
  • Increased depth of respiration
  • Increased depth (volume) of breath

In some cases, individuals suffer from Acute Mountain Sickness when ascending to elevations of over 3,000 meters from sea level. However, is a very common and mild condition that can be overcome if the body is given enough time to acclimatize. The reason why it happens is reduced air pressure at high altitudes as well as the lower oxygen levels. One of the more severe forms of mountain sickness is called High Altitude Cerebral Edema, where fluid builds up in the brain. This is a life-threatening condition and requires immediate medical attention.

Deep Diving

Similarly, deep sea divers also have to acclimatize when ascending from a certain depth. This form of acclamatization during deep-sea diving involves a process called decompression, where the dissolved inert gases are eliminated from the diver’s body by pausing at several stops during the ascent to the water’s surface. The issue arises when the diver starts descending – which leads to increase in hydrostatic pressure as well as ambient pressure. Moreover, the breathing gas which is used with the dive is supplied at ambient pressure. This means the gases begin to dissolve in the diver’s body. On depressurization (during ascent), the dissolved gases form bubbles inside the body, often causing debilitating pain. In severe cases it can also cause coma or even death.

Frequently Asked Questions on Acclimatization

Which is an example of acclimatization?

One of the best known examples of acclimatization in humans can be observed when travelling from sea-level locations to high altitudes. The body acclimates and adapts accordingly to the new environment.

What is the difference between acclimatization and acclimation?

Acclimatization is restricted by the genome of the species. The same restriction does not hold true as the process happens over multiple generations, thereby enabling the acquisition of new or recombination of other genetic traits which improve the chances of survival or performance in a new environment.

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