Gravity, blood circulation, and the adaptation of form and function in lower vertebrates

J Exp Zool. 1996 Jun 1-15;275(2-3):217-25.


Gravitational force influences musculoskeletal systems, fluid distribution, and hydrodynamics of the circulation, especially in larger terrestrial vertebrates. The disturbance to hydrodynamics and distribution of body fluids relates largely to the effects of hydrostatic pressure gradients acting in vertical blood columns. These, in turn, are linked to the evolution of adaptive countermeasures involving modifications of structure and function. Comparative studies of snakes suggest there are four generalizations concerning adaptive countermeasures to gravity stress that seem relevant to lower vertebrates generally. First, increasing levels of regulated arterial blood pressure are expected to evolve with some relation to gravitational stresses incurred by the effects of height and posture on vertical blood columns above the heart. Second, aspects of gross anatomical organization are expected to evolve in relation to gravitational influence incurred by habitat and behavior. Third, natural selection coupled to gravitational stresses has favored morphological features that reduce the compliance of perivascular tissues and provide an anatomical "antigravity suit." Fourth, natural selection has produced gradients or regional differences of vascular characteristics in tall or elongated vertebrates that are active in high gravity stress environments. Consideration or awareness of these principles should be incorporated into interpretations of structure and function in lower vertebrates.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Blood Circulation*
  • Blood Pressure
  • Cardiovascular Physiological Phenomena*
  • Cardiovascular System / anatomy & histology
  • Gravitation
  • Vertebrates / physiology*