1.1 – What is Physiology?

The content of this chapter was adapted from the Concepts of Biology-1st Canadian Edition open textbook by Charles Molnar and Jane Gair (Chapter 11 – Introduction to the body’s systems).

Learning Outcomes

1.1. Define physiology and explain its importance and connections to other fields of biological studies.

Physiology is a study of how animal form or structure and function sustain life and shape responses to environmental conditions. The arctic fox (Figure 1.1), a complex animal that has adapted to its environment, illustrates the relationships between an animal’s form and function. The multicellular bodies of animals consist of tissues that make up more complex organs and organ systems. The organ systems of an animal maintain homeostasis within the multicellular body. These systems are adapted to obtain the necessary nutrients and other resources needed by the cells of the body, to remove the wastes those cells produce, to coordinate the activities of the cells, tissues, and organs throughout the body, and to coordinate the many responses of the individual organism to its environment.

A photo of arctic fox walking in the snow tundra.
Figure 1.1 Arctic fox in Wapusk National Park, Manitoba, Canada. Photo by By Ansgar Walk – photo taken by Ansgar Walk, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=905259
Explore Further Resources Some examples of arctic fox physiological adaptions to its environment include:

  • Fur with insulative properties to keep the arctic fox warm;
  • Reduced heat loss through adaptations to body components such as shorter ears, legs, muzzle;
  • Ability to stand on cold surfaces due to capillary rete in pads;
  • Can reduce metabolic rate to conserve energy, especially helpful in times of food scarcity.

SOURCE:  PESTRUD, P.  (1991).  Adaptations by the Arctic Fox (Alopex lagopus) to the Polar Winter.  Arctic, 44(2), 132-138.  Retrieved 2018 February 5 from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40511073 

The study of physiology is interrelated with other fields of biological studies, such as

  • Anatomy (how organisms are structured),
  • Biogeography (spatial and temporal distribution of organisms),
  • Biomechanics (the study of how organisms move),
  • Conservation Biology (the study of the natural environment and ecosystems),
  • Ecology (the study of how organisms interact with other living organisms and their environment),
  • Ethology (the study of animal behaviour), and
  • Other fields of Biology.
Questions Question 1.1

Define physiology in your own words. 

Watch Video Watch this video to see how Arctic foxes find prey in the winter.



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Introductory Animal Physiology Copyright © by Sanja Hinic-Frlog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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