Plants and animals adapt to the environmental pressures in which they face. Their adaptations are reflected in their structure, physiology and growth patterns. Their response time to stress often determines their continued existence in a race of survival of the fittest. The availability of natural resources also defines how a plant or animal grows and illustrates some of the coping mechanisms each of these types of organism uses.
At the Cellular Level
Plant and animal growth differ from one another at the most basic level of their cells. Plant cells have a cell wall in order to help their stems stay upright. The skeletal system of animals performs a similar function. These differences in growth are in part possible because of their cellular shape. Plant cells are rectangular, helping them form long stems or trunks. Animal cells are round, which accounts for the wide variety of shapes and sizes of animals.
Longevity varies widely both within the plant and animal kingdoms. Many factors play into how long an organism may live, including habitat and resources. Bats, for example, extend what would normally be a short life span for a mammal that size by going into a period of hibernation during the winter. The hibernation reduces the use of the animal's structures, allowing it to live longer. Animals typically do not live much beyond 200 years, with the oldest animal being a 220-year-old clam, according to the Guinness Book of Records. Plants, however, can live hundreds of years more than animals. The giant sequoias of the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park are believed to be well over 1,800 years old, according to the National Park Service.
Plants cells contain chloroplasts, which are the site of photosynthesis. Photosynthesis represents the most striking difference between growth in plants and animals. Plants manufacture their own food and energy from raw materials present in their immediate environment. Animals, on the other hand, must find their own food resources to fuel their growth.
Environmental Stress and Growth
Plants rely solely on what natural resources are immediately available to them. If insufficient light or water is present, a plant cannot make food or energy for growth. A plant responds by slowing its growth or ceasing it altogether. If temperatures are too high, it will retain water by closing the stomata, or pores of its leaves. Animals, on the other hand, can travel to find resources if their environment lacks anything they need. They can distance themselves from inhospitable conditions. In short, animals can make changes in order to continue to grow, whereas plants can only respond to environmental stresses and conserve their resources until conditions improve.
Another stark difference between plant and animal growth lies with parental investment. Plants do not depend upon parent plants for resources after germination. Animals depend upon their parents to varying degrees from protecting a nest to nursing and weaning.
- Biology Online: Plant Cells vs. Animal Cells
- National Park Service: The Giant Sequoia - Forest Masterpiece
- "Guinness World Records 2009"; Craig Glenday; 2009
- "Ecology and Field Biology"; Robert Leo Smith; 1990
- "Bats: Biology and Behaviour"; John D. Altringham, Tom McOwat, and Lucy Hammond; 1999
- Photo Credit Maman et bÃ©bÃ© ours image by Nookie from Fotolia.com
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