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Biology - Adaptation (AQA Syllabus A)

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.

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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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  1. Some tribes of the Amazon rainforest obtain a poison for their hunting arrows from certain brightly coloured frogs. Why are these frogs brightly coloured?
    These are the 'poison dart frogs'. They have evolved brightly coloured skin to advertise that they are poisonous so that they won't be eaten. This adaptation makes them look as if they are not food
  2. Which of the following adaptations help to make sharks such good predators?
    A shark is perfectly adapted to a life as a predator, its fins are arranged to enable it to twist and turn quickly and accurately to chase prey. The tail is a powerful and efficient crescent shape that propels its smooth skinned, streamlined body through water at speed
  3. Organisms that are tolerant of high levels of salt, high temperatures or high pressures are called what?
    Extremophiles are often, but not always, simple single celled organisms
  4. Why do polar bears have white fur?
    Polar bears are the top predator in the Arctic and the adaptation of white fur helps them to hunt more efficiently. They blend in better with the ice and snow and are able to get closer to their prey before making their attack
  5. For which of the following do animals not compete?
    Animals do not need to compete for light because they don't photosynthesise
  6. Plants compete for ...
    Plants that are successful at living in shady areas often have leaves that contain more chlorophyll than other plants
  7. The jackrabbit is an animal that lives in the desert. One of its adaptations is that it has much larger ears than rabbits living in Britain. Which of the following is the least likely to be true?
    The main reason for this creature's large ears is that it uses its ears to cool down - when it finds any shade, the blood vessels of its ears automatically widen. This is an adaptation that increases the surface area from which heat can be lost. This is better than sweating in the desert where water is in short supply. There are other desert living animals with the same adaptation
  8. An adaptation is:
    Adaptations are either a physical feature or a type of behaviour that helps a plant or animal compete and survive better in its environment
  9. What is the most likely reason from the answers below to explain why roses have thorns?
    Many plants have developed the adaptation of thorns for defence
  10. The Sahel is the area at the southern edge of the Sahara Desert in Africa. As the human population in the Sahel has increased they have created more farmland for growing crops. The populations of the various wild animals has ...
    By removing their natural food and destroying the wild animals' habitat, the farmers create more competition in the populations of wild animals. There isn't enough food to go round so some animals starve or migrate, whilst others are killed in fights over food

Author: Kev Woodward

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