Periodic biological fluctuation in an organism corresponding to and in response to periodic environmental change, such as day and night or high and low tide. The internal mechanism that maintains this rhythm even without the apparent environmental stimulus is a “biological clock.” When the rhythm is interrupted, the clock's adjustment is delayed, accounting for such phenomena as jet lag when traveling across time zones. Rhythms may have 24-hour (circadian rhythm), monthly, or annual cycles. Seealso photoperiodism.
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This is not to say that conformers don't have behavioural adaptations allowing them to exert some control over a given parameter. For instance, reptiles often rest on sun-heated rocks in the morning to raise their body temperature. Vice versa, regulators are usually responsive to external circumstances: if the same sun-baked boulder happens to host a ground squirrel, its metabolism will adjust to the lesser need for internal heat production.
An advantage of homeostatic regulation is that it allows an organism to function effectively in a broad range of environmental conditions. For example, ectotherms tend to become sluggish at low temperatures, whereas a co-located endotherm may be fully active. That thermal stability comes at a price since an automatic regulation system requires additional energy. One reason snakes may eat only once a week is that they use much less energy to maintain homeostasis.
Most homeostatic regulation is controlled by the release of hormones into the bloodstream. However other regulatory processes rely on simple diffusion to maintain a balance.
Homeostatic regulation extends far beyond the control of temperature. All animals also regulate their blood glucose, as well as the concentration of their blood. Mammals regulate their blood glucose with insulin and glucagon. These hormones are released by the pancreas. If the pancreas is for any reason unable to produce enough of these two hormones diabetes results. The kidneys are used to remove excess water and ions from the blood. These are then expelled as urine. The kidneys perform a vital role in homeostatic regulation in mammals, removing excess water, salt, and urea from the blood. These are the body's main waste products.
Sleep timing depends upon a balance between homeostatic sleep propensity, the need for sleep as a function of the amount of time elapsed since the last adequate sleep episode, and circadian rhythms which determine the ideal timing of a correctly structured and restorative sleep episode.
One positive feedback example event in the body is blood platelet accumulation, which, in turn, causes blood clotting in response to a break or tear in the lining of blood vessels. Another example is the release of oxytocin to intensify the contractions that take place during childbirth.
Positive feedback can also be harmful. One particular example is when a fever causes a positive feedback within homeostasis that pushes the temperature continually higher. Body temperature can reach extremes of 45°C (113°F), at which cellular proteins denature, causing the active site in proteins to change, thus causing metabolism to stop, resulting in death.
Diseases that result from a homeostatic imbalance include diabetes, dehydration, hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia, gout, and any disease caused by a toxin present in the bloodstream. All of these conditions result from the presence of an increased amount of a particular substance. In ideal circumstances, homeostatic control mechanisms should prevent this imbalance from occurring, but, in some people, the mechanisms do not work efficiently enough or the quantity of the substance exceeds the levels at which it can be managed. In these cases, medical intervention is necessary to restore the imbalance, or permanent damage to the organs may result.
An example of a disturbed ecosystems or sub-climax biological communities was the island of Krakatoa after its major eruption in 1883: the established stable homeostasis of the previous forest climax ecosystem was destroyed and all life eliminated from the island. In the years after the eruption, Krakatoa went through a sequence of ecological changes in which successive groups of new plant or animal species followed one another, leading to increasing biodiversity and eventually culminating in a re-established climax community. This ecological succession on Krakatoa occurred in a number of stages; a sere is defined as "a stage in a sequence of events by which succession occurs". The complete chain of seres leading to a climax is called a prisere. In the case of Krakatoa, the island reached its climax community, with eight hundred different recorded species, in 1983, one hundred years after the eruption that cleared all life off the island. Evidence confirms that this number has been homeostatic for some time, with the introduction of new species rapidly leading to elimination of old ones.
The evidence of Krakatoa, and other disturbed or virgin ecosystems, shows that the initial colonization by pioneer or R strategy species occurs through positive feedback reproduction strategies, wherein species are weeds, producing huge numbers of possible offspring, but investing little in the success of any one. Rapid boom and bust plague or pest cycles are observed with such species. As an ecosystem starts to approach climax, these species get replaced by more sophisticated climax species, which, through negative feedback, adapt themselves to specific environmental conditions. These species, closely controlled by carrying capacity, follow K strategies, wherein species produce fewer numbers of potential offspring, but invest more heavily in securing the reproductive success of each one to the micro-environmental conditions of its specific ecological niche.
It begins with a pioneer community and ends with a climax community. This climax community occurs when the ultimate vegetation has achieved equilibrium with the local environment. Such ecosystems form nested communities or heterarchies, in which homeostasis at one level contributes to homeostatic processes at another holonic level. For example, the loss of leaves on a mature rainforest tree creates space for new growth, and contributes to the plant litter and soil humus build-up upon which such growth depends. Of equal importance, a mature rainforest tree reduces the sunlight falling on the forest floor and helps prevent invasion by other species. But trees too fall to the forest floor, and a healthy forest glade is dependent upon a constant rate of forest regrowth, produced by the fall of logs, and the recycling of forest nutrients through the respiration of termites and other insect, fungal, and bacterial decomposers. In a similar manner, such forest glades contribute ecological services, such as the regulation of microclimates or of the hydrological cycle for an ecosystem, and a number of different ecosystems act together to maintain homeostasis, perhaps of a number of river catchments within a bioregion. A diversity of bioregions, in like manner, makes up a stable homeostatic biological region or biome.
In the Gaia hypothesis, James Lovelock stated that the entire mass of living matter on Earth (or any planet with life) functions as a vast homeostatic superorganism that actively modifies its planetary environment to produce the environmental conditions necessary for its own survival. In this view, the entire planet maintains homeostasis. Whether this sort of system is present on Earth is still open to debate. However, some relatively simple homeostatic mechanisms are generally accepted. For example, when atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rise, certain plants are able to grow better and thus act to remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When sunlight is plentiful and atmospheric temperature climbs, the phytoplankton of the ocean surface waters thrive and produce more dimethyl sulfide, DMS. The DMS molecules act as cloud condensation nuclei, which produce more clouds, and thus increase the atmospheric albedo and this feeds back to lower the temperature of the atmosphere. As scientists discover more about Gaia, vast numbers of positive and negative feedback loops are being discovered, that, together, maintain a metastable condition, sometimes within very broad range of environmental conditions.
Example of use: "Reactive homeostasis is an immediate response to a homeostatic challenge such as predation."
However, any homeostasis is impossible without reaction - because homeostasis is and must be a "feedback" phenomenon.
The phrase "reactive homeostasis" is simply short for: "reactive compensation reestablishing homeostasis", that is to say, "reestablishing a point of homeostasis." - it should not be confused with a separate kind of homeostasis or a distinct phenomenon from homeostasis; it is simply the compensation (or compensatory) phase of homeostasis.
An actuary may refer to risk homeostasis, where (for example) people that have anti-lock brakes have no better safety record than those without anti-lock brakes, because the former unconsciously compensate for the safer vehicle via less-safe driving habits. Previous to the innovation of anti-lock brakes, certain maneuvers involved minor skids, evoking fear and avoidance: now the anti-lock system moves the boundary for such feedback, and behavior patterns expand into the no-longer punitive area. It has also been suggested that ecological crises are an instance of risk homeostasis in which behavior known to be dangerous continues until dramatic consequences actually occur.
Jean Francois Lyotard, a postmodern theorist, has applied this term to societal 'power centers' that he describes as being 'governed by a principle of homeostasis,' for example, the scientific hierarchy, which will sometimes ignore a radical new discovery for years because it destabilizes previously-accepted norms. (See "The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge" by J.F. Lyotard)