Acclimation versus Adaptation

Acclimation involves physiological, anatomical, or morphological adjustments within a single organism that improve performance or survival in response to environmental change. The extent of this acclimation is constrained by the genome of the individual. In turn, adaptation involves the acquisition or recombination of genetic traits that improve performance or survival over multiple generations. For example, all plants have the ability to adjust their form and function to acclimate to some extent to, for example, warmer versus cooler temperatures or higher versus lower light levels. However, only plants adapted to cool climates (i.e., species that have evolved in temperate or higher latitudes, or at higher elevations) possess a set of genetic traits permitting adjustments to the level necessary to survive extreme cold. Similarly, only plants adapted to shade are able to make the adjustments necessary to survive in the understory of a multilayered rainforest canopy. While acclimation will be the focus of this article, it will be discussed against the background of adaptation.

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