Acclimatization

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Ever wondered how organisms are able to thrive when they are introduced into new environments? 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.

Definition:

Acclimatization is defined as a process where an organism adjusts its behaviour or physiology in response to changes in its environment. The changes in the physiology and behaviour of a single organism happens in a short period of time within its lifetime. It is also reversible across most cases.

How is Acclimatization Different from Adaptation?

The presence of special features or habits in a species that help to  survive in a particular habitat is called adaptation. For example, desert plants have leaves reduced into spines to reduce water loss by transpiration.  But, acclimatization helps to overcome the small problems caused by changes in the surroundings.

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. It happens in short period within the lifetime of an entity. On the other hand, the adaptation of a species to a particular environment takes place over generations.

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 or hill stations. For instance, if an individual hikes to 3,000 meters above sea level and stays there for 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 take 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 that 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, it 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 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

Deep sea divers 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 an 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

What is acclimatization?

The term “Acclimatization” refers to a process where an organism adjusts itself to changes in its environment.

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 adaptation?

Acclimatization refers to a process where an individual organism adjusts to changes in its environment with respect to temperature, altitude, humidity, pH, light, salinity, pressure and presence of certain chemicals. The presence of special features or habits in a species that help to survive in a particular habitat is called adaptation.

Is Acclimatization a stable change?

No. Acclimatization is reversible and not stable. When the conditions are returned to normal, the changes disappear.

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