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adaptationadaptatio (lat.); adaptation (fr.); Anpassung (ger.)

  • 1) The quality or state of being adapted or suitable for a particular use, purpose, or function, or to a particular environment; adaptedness. (OED 2011)
    c. 1225

    Sed cum nullius uirtutis ministerium conpleatur nisi per organa conuenienter adaptata tunc exigitur adaptatio et preparatio organorum multiformium ad texturam humani corporis ordinandam per que uirtutes negocientur et effectus quos intendunt attingant

    Pseudo-Galenus (c. 1225). Anatomia vivorum (Anatomia Ricardi Anglici, ad fidem codicis Ms. N. 1634 in Bibliotheca Palatina Vindobonensi asservati, ed. R. von Töply, Wien 1902): 1 (19r.s.).


    such an exact adaptation of every thing one to another, as to serve the whole

    Hale, M. (1677). The Primitive Origination Of Mankind: 328.


    La Structure & le nombre des Membres, leur aptitude à se prêter aux impressions variées des Sens [die Anpassung ihrer [der Gliedmaßen] Spielung zu diesen verschiednen Eindrücken]

    Bonnet, C. (1769). La palingénésie philosophique, vol. 1 (Genève 1770): 181 [germ. transl. J.C. Lavater, 1770: 208].


    elle [la nature] n’est par-tout que convenance et harmonie [she [Nature] is throughout nothing but adaptation and harmony]

    Saint-Pierre, J.H.B. de (1784/88). Études de la nature, vol. 1: 470 [engl. transl. H. Hunter, 1796: II, 47].


    [Die] von selbst zweckmäßig wirkende Natur [...] hat [...] durch ihre veranstaltete Angemessenheit zum Klima die Verwechselung desselben, vornehmlich des warmen mit dem kältern, verhindert. Denn eben diese übele Anpassung des neuen Himmelsstrichs zu dem schon angearteten Naturell der Bewohner des alten hält sie von selbst davon ab. Und wo haben Indier oder Neger sich in nordlichen Gegenden auszubreiten gesucht? — Die aber dahin vertrieben sind, haben in ihrer Nachkommenschaft (wie die creolischen Neger oder Indier unter dem Namen der Zigeuner) niemals einen zu ansässigen Landanbauern oder Handarbeitern tauglichen Schlag abgeben wollen

    Kant, I. (1788). Über den Gebrauch teleologischer Principien in der Philosophie (AA, vol. VIII, 157-184): 173-4.


    Two things were wanted to the eye, which were not wanted, at least in the same degree, to the telescope; and these were, the adaptation of the organ, first, to different degrees of light; and, secondly, to the vast diversity of distance at which objects are viewed by the naked eye

    Paley, W. (1802). Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity: 24.


    those only come forward to maturity from the strict ordeal by which Nature tests their adaptation to her standard of perfection and fitness to continue their kind by reproduction

    Matthew, T.P. (1831). Naval Timber and Arboriculture: 385 (Appendix).


    Vultures which wallow in putridity have the skin of their head naked; whether this adaptation is due to selection, I will not pretend to conjecture

    Darwin, C. (1856-58). [Natural Selection], ed. R.C. Stauffer, 1975: 378.


    How have all those exquisite adaptations of one part of the organisation to another part, and to the conditions of life, and of one distinct organic being to another being, been perfected? We see these beautiful co-adaptations most plainly in the woodpecker and missletoe; and only a little less plainly in the humblest parasite which clings to the hairs of a quadruped or feathers of a bird; in the structure of the beetle which dives through the water; in the plumed seed which is wasted by the gentlest breeze; in short, we see beautiful adaptations everywhere and in every part of the organic world

    Darwin, C. (1859). On the Origin of Species: 60-1.


    a most peculiar feature in these animals is their adaption to an almost complete arboreal life

    Thompson, A.H. (1877). The influence of food-selection upon the evolution of animal life. Trans. Kansas Acad. Sci. 5, 65-70: 67.


    the word ‘adaption’ is ambiguous, as it designates at least three different concepts, namely the following: A1 = suitability of a subsystem (organelle, organ, etc.) to a function, or high biovalue of the subsystem for the entire organism; A2 = adjustment of the organism to its environment; A3 = fertility of a biopopulation.

    Bunge, M. (1979). Treatise on Basic Philosophy, vol. 4. Ontology II: A World of Systems: 104.

  • 2) A process of change or modification by which an individual organism becomes better suited to its environment, or a part of an organism to its biological function.

    the adaptation of the eyes of birds to the view of remote or moderately distant objects, is produced simply by the passive relaxation of the tendinous fibres in the recti muscles.

    Anonymus (1796). [Rev. Smith, P. (1795). Observations on the structure of the eyes of birds (communicated by G. Pearson). Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 85, 263-269]. The British Critic 8, 134 [the term ‘adaptation’ did not appear in the reviewed article]. 


    Were it not for this process of adaptation, the head of the bone would rest against the lower part of the capsular ligament, where it is altogether unsupported

    Quain, J. (1828). Elements of Descriptive and Practical Anatomy: 377.


    Die Anpassung oder Adaptation ist diejenige formbildende Function der Naturkörper, welche die unendlich mannichfaltigen individuellen Charactere bedingt, durch welche sich alle Individuen einer und derselben Art von einander unterscheiden. […] [Die] Function des werdenden, des sich gestaltenden Individuums können wir allgemein als Anpassung (Adaptatio, Accommodatio) bezeichnen […]. Die Anpassungsfähigkeit (Adaptabilitas) oder Veränderlichkeit (Variabilitas) als virtuelle Kraft, und die Anpassung (Adaptatio) oder Abänderung (Variatio) als actuelle Leistung der organischen Individuen, sind allgemeine physiologische Functionen der Organismen, welche mit der fundamentalen Function der Ernährung unmittelbar zusammenhängen und eigentlich nur eine Theilerscheinung der letzteren darstellen.

    Haeckel, E. (1866). Generelle Morphologie der Organismen, 2 vols.: I, 152; 154; II, 191. 


    The hypothesis is briefly as follows: That ontogenetic adaptation is of a very profound character. It enables animals and plants to survive very critical changes in their environment. Thus all the individuals of a race are similarly modified over such long periods of time that very gradually congenital or phylogenetic variations, which, happen to coincide with the ontogenetic adaptive variations, are selected.

    Osborn, H.F. (1897). Organic selection. Science 6, 583-587: 584.


    Anpassung. Adaptation, die physiologische und morphologische, im letzten Grunde chemisch-physikalische Veränderung eines organischen Wesens gemäß den Umweltbedingungen (als Vorgang), auch das Resultat dieser Veränderung.

    Schmidt, H. (1912). Wörterbuch der Biologie: 20.

  • 3) A process of change or modification by which the organisms of a species become, through an evolutionary process effecting change through successive generations, better suited to their environment or ecological niche; also the result of this process.  

    the adaptation of the attributes and migratory habits of animals and plants, to the changes which are unceasingly in progress in the inanimate world. It is clear that the duration of species is so great, that they are destined to outlive many important revolutions in the physical geography of the earth, and hence those innumerable contrivances for enabling the subjects of the animal and vegetable creation to extend their range, the inhabitants of the land being often carried across the ocean, and the aquatic tribes over great continental spaces. It is obviously expedient that the terrestrial and fluviatile species should not only be fitted for the rivers, valleys, plains, and mountains which exists at the era of their creation, but for others that are destined to be formed before the species shall become extinct; and, in like manner, the marine species are not only made for the deep or shallow regions of the ocean at the time when they are called into being, but for tracts that may be submerged or variously altered in depth during the time that is allotted for their continuance on the globe.

    Lyell, C. (1833). Principles of Geology, vol. 3: 115-6.


    it is in contemplating the new forms and adaptations of living and organized matter to these successive changes in the surface of the earth, that we have the best proofs of the continuance of that Power which first created. […] there is an adaptation, an established and universal relation between the instincts, organization, and instruments of animals, on the one hand, and the element in which they are to live, the position which they are to hold, and their means of obtaining food, on the other […] paws are not approximations to the hand, corresponding with a higher ingenuity, but are adaptations of the feet to the branches on which the animals climb and walk. […] the changes which we see in the forms of different animals are referable to one principle—the adaptation of the parts to their proper uses

    Bell, C. (1834). The Hand. Its Mechanism and Vital Endowments, as Evincing Design: 2; 41; 49; 280; cf. Ospovat, D. (1978). Perfect adaptation and teleological explanation: approaches to the problem of the history of life in the mid-nineteenth century. Studies in History of Biology 2, 33-56: 37.


    the permanent varieties produced by inter confined breeding changing circumstances are continued produced according to the adaptation of such circumstances […] Why does individual die, to perpetuate certain peculiarities (therefore adaptation), to obliterate accidental varieties, to accomodate itself to change (for of course change even in varieties is accomodation). Now this argument applies to species. — If individual cannot procreate, he has no issue, so with species.— […] An originality is given (& power of adaptation is given by true generation through means of every step of progressive increase of organization being imitated in the womb, which has been passed through to form that species. Man is derived from Monad each fresh […] It is another question, whether whole scale of Zoology may not be perfecting by change of Mammalia for Reptiles, which can only be adaptation to changing world.

    Darwin, C. (1837-38). Notebook B: 39; 64; 78; 205. 


    adaptation of organic beings to their destined conditions of existence

    Strickland, H.E. (1840). Observations upon the affinities and analogies of organized beings. Mag. Nat. Hist. 4, 219-226: 222.


    Auf dieser individuellen Variabilität beruht die Fähigkeit der Anpassung an die umgebenden Existenz-Bedingungen, welche der absoluten und allgemeinen Erblichkeit entgegen wirkt, und in Wechselwirkung mit dieser die ganze Mannichfaltigkeit der Organismen-Welt nach den von Darwin entwickelten Gesetzen erzeugt.

    Haeckel, E. (1866). Generelle Morphologie der Organismen, vol. 1: 152.


    Heredity is the conservative, adaptation, the progressive principle. Yet […] many cases of adaptation involve morphological and physiological retrogression.

    Schmidt, O. (1875). The Doctrine of Descent and Darwinism: 165.


    das Leben ist nicht Anpassung innerer Bedingungen an äußere, sondern Wille zur Macht, der von innen her immer mehr ›Äußeres‹ sich unterwirft und einverleibt

    Nietzsche, F. (1885-87). Nachgelassene Fragmente (KSA, Bd. 12): 295.


    Adaptations due to Natural Selection must not only have always presented some degree of adaptive value, but this must always have been sufficiently great to reach what I have called a selection-value

    Romanes, G.J. (1893). Mr. Herbert Spencer on “natural selection”. The Contemporary Review 63, 499-517: 508.


    An adaptation is a species-conserving characteristic

    Lillie, R.S. (1915). What is purposive and intelligent behavior from the physiological point of view? J. Philos. Psychol. Sci. Meth. 12, 589-610: 590f.; vgl. ders. (1920). The place of life in nature. J. Philos. Psychol. Sci. Meth. 17, 477-493: 484.


    die Anpassung des Menschen an ein neues Klima ist eine langsame, eine hundertjährige Veränderung

    Gleichen-Rußwurm, A. von (1929). Kultur- und Sittengeschichte aller Zeiten und Völker, Teil 11. Die geistige Entwicklung Europas vom 14. bis 16. Jahrhundert: 77.


    Anpassung, Adap(ta)tion, die spezifische Ausprägung von Merkmalen und Eigenschaften der Lebewesen als Ergebnis der Wechselwirkung zwischen Organismus und Umwelt.

    Anonymus (1967). Anpassung. In: Stöcker, F.W. & Dietrich, G. (eds.). Brockhaus ABC Biologie: 36.


    Adaptation is relative to an environment in a way that function is not, and because of this, it is possible for a trait to have a function and yet not be adaptive

    Munson, R. (1972). Biological adaptation: a reply. Philos. Sci. 39, 529-532: 530; vgl. ders. (1971). Biological adaptation. Philos. Sci. 38, 200-215: 205f.


    [T]he very use of the notion of adaptation inevitably carries over into modern biology the theological view of a preformed physical world to which organisms were fitted

    Lewontin, R. (1980). Adaptation. In: Sober, E. (ed.) (1984). Conceptual Issues in Evolutionary Biology, 235-251: 244f.


    There seem to be three common meanings [of the word ‘adaptation’]. (1) It may mean the change that occurs in a phenotype as a result of some environmental experience where the change is assumed to improve the ability of the organism to continue growth (or better, its chance of leaving descendants) compared with an organism that did not undergo the change. […] (2) An adaptation is any aspect of form or behaviour that at a reasonable guess is the result of natural selection (see Williams 1966). This is probably the commonest usage and assumes that of the incomplete list of the evolutionary forces […], natural selection is so overwhelmingly the most important that we can assume it accounts for most of what we observe. It is doubtful whether we can ever make that assumption. (3) An adaptation is any feature of form or behaviour that can, in retrospect, be called on to account for the ability of an organism to live where, or to do what, it does. It is any feature of an organism that can be explained away as a ‘good thing’ in a perfect world: any feature that an intelligent creator might have provided had it been his intention that the plant was destined to live where it is now found.

    Harper, J.L. (1982). After description. In: Newman, E.I. (ed.). The Plant Community as a Working Mechanism, 11-25: 17-8.

    Adaptation is a historical concept. To call a characteristic an adaptation is to say something about its origin.

    Sober, E. (1984). The Nature of Selection: 199.

    A is an adaptation for task T in population P if and only if A became prevalent in P because there was selection for A, where the selective advantage of A was due to the fact that A helped perform task T.
    Sober, E. (1984). The Nature of Selection: 208.

    Mit der Vorstellung der Anpassung an die Umwelt ist jedes sinnvolle Organismus-Verständnis zerstört

    Gutmann, W.F. (1989). Die Evolution hydraulischer Konstruktionen. Organismische Wandlung statt altdarwinistischer Anpassung: 15.


    an adaptation can lack current utility

    Sober, E. (1993). Philosophy of Biology: 84.

    An adaptation is a phenotypic variant that results in the highest fitness among a specified set of variants in a given environment
    Reeve, H.K. & Sherman, P.W. (1993). Adaptation and the goals of evolutionary research. Quart. Rev. Biol. 68, 1-32: 9.

    [Darwin's theory of natural selection is] the first and only fully naturalistic explanation of biological adaptation

    Amundson, R. (1996). Historical development of the concept of adaptation. In: Rose, M.R. & Lauder, G.V. (eds.). Adaptation, 11-53: 28.


    [Darwin's theory of natural selection is] not just the best explanation of adaptation but the only physically possible purely causal explanation

    Rosenberg, A. & McShea, D.W. (2008). Philosophy of Biology. A Contemporary Introduction: 25.


    [Darwin's theory of natural selection is] the first, and only, causal-mechanistic account of the existence of adaptations in nature

    Brandon, R. (2008). Natural Selection. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2010 Edition). http://plato.

Cuénot, L. (1925). L’adaptation.

Dobzhansky, T. (1968). Adaptedness and fitness. In: Lewontin, R.C. (ed.). Population Biology and Evolution: 109-121.

Brandon, R. (1990). Adaptation and Environment.

Stern, J.T. Jr. (1970). The meaning of “adaptation” and its relation to the phenomenon of natural selection. Evol. Biol. 4, 39-66.

Munson, R. (1971). Biological adaptation. Philos. Sci. 38, 200-215.

Brandon, R. (1990). Adaptation and Environment.

Burian, R.M. (1992). Adaptation: historical perspectives. In: Fox Keller, E. & Lloyd, E. (eds.). Keywords in Evolutionary Biology, 7-12.

Amundson, R. (1996). Historical development of the concept of adaptation. In: Rose, M.R. & Lauder, G.V. (eds.). Adaptation, 11-53.