Giraffe Cardiovascular Adaptations to Gravity

The physiological systems of animals have adapted to Earth’s gravity over the past hundreds of millions of years. In general, gravitational adaptations of the cardiovascular system are more pronounced in terrestrial specieswith greater height and thus greater gravity-dependent gradients of blood pressure from head to feet. For example, dinosaurs (1), tree-climbing snakes (2), giraffes (3), and other tall animals have evolved mechanisms to provide adequate blood flow and nutrition to their brains while restricting blood flow and tissue swelling in their legs. Terrestrial animals of short stature and marine animals probably require much less sophisticated cardiovascular adaptive mechanisms. At the other extreme, aquatic snakes have little ability to withstand gravity out of water and rapidly “faint” when placed head above tail (2). Moreover, when gravity is absent even over short periods of time, astronauts experience orthostatic intolerance upon readaptation to gravity (see Chapter 58). Because humans are relatively tall compared to other species of animals, they too have developed extensive and sophisticated regulatory mechanisms to maintain cerebral perfusion and prevent lower extremity edema while in an upright posture. In fact, most understanding of gravitational mechanisms to date relates to observations in humans. However, taller terrestrial animals, such as the giraffe, may allow better understanding of the physiological adaptations to gravity. For example, blood pressure in giraffes is high to pump blood to their brain, but high blood pressures in their feet would theoretically cause severe dependent edema.

Publish DateApril 23, 2021
Last UpdatedApril 23, 2021
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