In GCSE Science interdependence and adaptation is one of the subjects covered. This is the second of three quizzes on that topic and it looks at the adaptation of different organisms to their environment. It is a key part of biology and an understanding of it will help students to comprehend the theory of evolution.
Adaptation can mean many things but in biology it means a characteristic that makes an organism suited to its environment. This helps them to compete for the resources they need for survival. You have probably heard the expression "survival of the fittest". This sums up one of the basic facts of biology - the plants and animals that are better adapted can compete more effectively and will be the most successful.
A plant of a certain species with long roots will be able to survive dry conditions better than one with shorter roots as it will be able to get water for longer. That's called variation. The shorter rooted plant may die but the other will live and be able to reproduce. Its offspring will have the longer roots so they will be able to survive as well. When the next drought happens, the new generation of plants will be suited to their environment - they will have adapted. The adaptation (also called an adaptive trait or adaptive characteristic) is root length.
Adaptations can enable organisms to live in extreme conditions, a good example of this being the emperor penguin. This lives in the Antarctic and breeds in temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees. They have many adaptations that enable them to do this - for a start, they are large birds. This means that they have a low surface area to volume ratio. Since heat is lost from the surface of an animal, in cold areas, the smaller this ratio is the better as it means that less heat will be lost than if they were smaller. They have a layer of fat just under the skin which keeps their body heat in; fine feathers that trap warm air next to their body; feathers that shed water very easily when the come out of the sea and some pretty neat tricks with the muscles and tendons of their wings and feet! But their key adaptation is behavioural. They huddle together for warmth. An individual penguin could not survive, in a large group their body heat is shared - you may even have done an experiment using hot water and test tubes to investigate this!
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