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Individual Accommodation vs. Gradual Adaptation

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  • 0:02 Accommodation vs. Adaptation
  • 1:15 Individual Accommodations
  • 2:48 Population Adaptations
  • 4:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Sometimes we encounter new environmental conditions that take some getting used to. As individuals, our bodies may quickly and temporarily accommodate for the short-term, but populations may adapt gradually for the long-term.

Accommodation vs. Adaptation

When you go on vacation, you pack according to the weather you're likely to encounter, right? So if you plan to visit Florida, you should pack shorts and t-shirts, but if you plan on going to Canada, you might want to leave the shorts at home and instead opt for pants and a warm jacket.

In a sense, other organisms do this, too. They're not flying off to spend spring break in the Bahamas, but they do temporarily adjust with environmental fluctuations. When an individual temporarily acclimates to changing environmental conditions, it is known as an accommodation. It's like you moving to Colorado and over the next few months adjusting to the higher elevation. Or moving from Maine to Texas and getting used to the warmer weather you'll encounter.

Something that many people confuse this with is an adaptation, which is quite different because it's an inherited genetic variation that permanently alters populations. And what's key here is that individuals do NOT adapt to fit their environment, only populations can adapt. Adaptations are permanent changes in the genetic make-up of the population as a whole. They can only occur as changes in the population overall, not in the individuals that make up that population.

Individual Accommodations

This is a tricky concept so let's look at some examples of each type of change. First, accommodations. Again, these are temporary adjustments that individuals experience, but they do not alter an individual's genetic information, and they cannot be inherited.

I already mentioned how your body might adjust to living at a higher elevation or get used to living in a warmer climate. But you might also adjust multiple times throughout the year if you lived somewhere like Alaska where the amount of daylight changes drastically with the seasons. During the summer, parts of Alaska may get 18 or more hours of sunlight, which can throw your internal clock for a loop. But then during the winter, you get the opposite--mostly darkness and only a few hours of sunlight each day.

Your body adjusts to these changes, but by no means is this change permanent. If you moved to the lower 48 states where daylight is more regular throughout the year, your internal clock would accommodate accordingly. Your genetic information isn't modified at all, and you can't pass these changes on to your children.

You don't need to go as far as Alaska either. Take a trip from one coast to the other, and you'll travel over several time zone changes as you go. If you flew from D.C. to California, you would get there at what felt like your bedtime but is now mid-day. It'll take you a while, but you can adjust to this by changing your sleeping, eating, and work schedule, but as soon as you go back to D.C., you accommodate and adjust to your old routine.

Population Adaptations

Adaptations, on the other hand, take more time. This is because they are permanent changes in genetic information, and they occur in populations, not individuals. Adaptations are related to natural selection because over long periods of time, the population adapts to fit its environment. Adaptations allow us to see how natural selection is more of an editing process than a creative one.

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