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Acclimatization or acclimation is the process of an organism adjusting to change in its environment, allowing it to survive changes in temperature, water and food availability, other stresses and often relates to seasonal weather changes. Acclimatization occurs in a short time, (days to weeks) and within one organism's lifetime (compare adaptation). This may be a discrete occurrence or may instead represent part of a periodic cycle, such as a mammal shedding heavy winter fur in favor of a lighter summer coat. Acclimation is an important characteristic among many organisms because it allows them to evolve over time while changes are also simultaneously occurring in their environment. Organisms adjust their morphological, behavioral, physical, and/or biochemical traits in response to these environmental changes that they are faced with.


Many plants, such as maple trees, irises, and tomatoes, can survive freezing temperatures if the temperature gradually drops lower and lower each night over a period of days or weeks. The same drop might kill them if it occurred suddenly. This process is called hardening and involves several changes, such as a decrease in the water content and an increase in the sugar content of the plant, lowering the freezing point of sap.


Animals acclimatize in many ways. Sheep grow very thick wool in cold, damp climates. Fish are able to adjust only gradually to changes in water temperature and quality. Tropical fish sold at pet stores are often kept in acclimatization bags until this process is complete.


When humans move from a cool or temperate environment to a hot, dry desert environment or vice versa, they should spend up to seven days acclimatizing to the change in their environment. This lets the body make internal adjustments (see homeostasis) to compensate for the change in environmental conditions. If people do not acclimatize, then the person is at higher risk of heat related injuries (heat stroke, heat cramp, pneumonia). A heat acclimatized person will begin to sweat earlier and more intensely under heat, have a lower heart rate, and a lower skin temperature. The salt content of sweat also decreases as people acclimatize.

Acclimatization to high altitude continues for months or even years after initial ascent, and ultimately enables humans to survive in an environment that, without acclimatization, would kill them. Humans who migrate permanently to a higher altitude naturally acclimatize to their new environment by developing an increase in the number of red blood cells to increase the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood, in order to compensate for lower levels of oxygen in the air.

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