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Illustration A shows a cross section of a sponge, which has a thin, vase-like body bathed both inside and out by fluid. Illustration B shows a bell-shaped jellyfish.
Simple animals consisting of a single cell layer such as the (a) sponge or only a few cell layers such as the (b) jellyfish do not have a circulatory system. Instead, gases, nutrients, and wastes are exchanged by diffusion.

For more complex organisms, diffusion is not efficient for cycling gases, nutrients, and waste effectively through the body; therefore, more complex circulatory systems evolved. Most arthropods and many mollusks have open circulatory systems. In an open system, an elongated beating heart pushes the hemolymph through the body and muscle contractions help to move fluids. The larger more complex crustaceans, including lobsters, have developed arterial-like vessels to push blood through their bodies, and the most active mollusks, such as squids, have evolved a closed circulatory system and are able to move rapidly to catch prey. Closed circulatory systems are a characteristic of vertebrates; however, there are significant differences in the structure of the heart and the circulation of blood between the different vertebrate groups due to adaptation during evolution and associated differences in anatomy. [link] illustrates the basic circulatory systems of some vertebrates: fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals.

Illustration A shows the circulatory system of fish, which have a two-chambered heart with one atrium and one ventricle. Blood in systemic circulation flows from the body into the atrium, then into the ventricle. Blood exiting the heart enters gill circulation, where gases are exchanged by gill capillaries. From the gills blood re-enters systemic circulation, where gases in the body are exchanged by body capillaries. Illustration B shows the circulatory system of amphibians, which have a three-chambered heart with two atriums and one ventricle. Blood in systemic circulation enters the heart, flows into the right atrium, then into the ventricle. Blood leaving the ventricle enters pulmonary and skin circulation. Capillaries in the lung and skin exchange gases, oxygenating the blood. From the lungs and skin blood re-enters the heart through the left atrium. Blood flows into the ventricle, where it mixes with blood from systemic circulation. Blood leaves the ventricle and enters systemic circulation. Illustration C shows the circulatory system of reptiles, which have a four-chambered heart. The right and left ventricle are separated by a septum, but there is no septum separating the right and left atrium, so there is some mixing of blood between these two chambers. Blood from systemic circulation enters the right atrium, then flows from the right ventricle and enters pulmonary circulation, where blood is oxygenated in the lungs. From the lungs blood travels back into the heart through the left atrium. Because the left and right atrium are not separated, some mixing of oxygenated and deoxygenated blood occurs. Blood is pumped into the left ventricle, then into the body. Illustration D shows the circulatory system of mammals, which have a four-chambered heart. Circulation is similar to that of reptiles, but the four chambers are completely separate from one another, which improves efficiency.
(a) Fish have the simplest circulatory systems of the vertebrates: blood flows unidirectionally from the two-chambered heart through the gills and then the rest of the body. (b) Amphibians have two circulatory routes: one for oxygenation of the blood through the lungs and skin, and the other to take oxygen to the rest of the body. The blood is pumped from a three-chambered heart with two atria and a single ventricle. (c) Reptiles also have two circulatory routes; however, blood is only oxygenated through the lungs. The heart is three chambered, but the ventricles are partially separated so some mixing of oxygenated and deoxygenated blood occurs except in crocodilians and birds. (d) Mammals and birds have the most efficient heart with four chambers that completely separate the oxygenated and deoxygenated blood; it pumps only oxygenated blood through the body and deoxygenated blood to the lungs.

As illustrated in [link] a Fish have a single circuit for blood flow and a two-chambered heart that has only a single atrium and a single ventricle. The atrium collects blood that has returned from the body and the ventricle pumps the blood to the gills where gas exchange occurs and the blood is re-oxygenated; this is called gill circulation    . The blood then continues through the rest of the body before arriving back at the atrium; this is called systemic circulation    . This unidirectional flow of blood produces a gradient of oxygenated to deoxygenated blood around the fish’s systemic circuit. The result is a limit in the amount of oxygen that can reach some of the organs and tissues of the body, reducing the overall metabolic capacity of fish.

In amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals, blood flow is directed in two circuits: one through the lungs and back to the heart, which is called pulmonary circulation    , and the other throughout the rest of the body and its organs including the brain (systemic circulation). In amphibians, gas exchange also occurs through the skin during pulmonary circulation and is referred to as pulmocutaneous circulation    .

As shown in [link] b , amphibians have a three-chambered heart that has two atria and one ventricle rather than the two-chambered heart of fish. The two atria (superior heart chambers) receive blood from the two different circuits (the lungs and the systems), and then there is some mixing of the blood in the heart’s ventricle    (inferior heart chamber), which reduces the efficiency of oxygenation. The advantage to this arrangement is that high pressure in the vessels pushes blood to the lungs and body. The mixing is mitigated by a ridge within the ventricle that diverts oxygen-rich blood through the systemic circulatory system and deoxygenated blood to the pulmocutaneous circuit. For this reason, amphibians are often described as having double circulation    .

Most reptiles also have a three-chambered heart similar to the amphibian heart that directs blood to the pulmonary and systemic circuits, as shown in [link] c . The ventricle is divided more effectively by a partial septum, which results in less mixing of oxygenated and deoxygenated blood. Some reptiles (alligators and crocodiles) are the most primitive animals to exhibit a four-chambered heart. Crocodilians have a unique circulatory mechanism where the heart shunts blood from the lungs toward the stomach and other organs during long periods of submergence, for instance, while the animal waits for prey or stays underwater waiting for prey to rot. One adaptation includes two main arteries that leave the same part of the heart: one takes blood to the lungs and the other provides an alternate route to the stomach and other parts of the body. Two other adaptations include a hole in the heart between the two ventricles, called the foramen of Panizza, which allows blood to move from one side of the heart to the other, and specialized connective tissue that slows the blood flow to the lungs. Together these adaptations have made crocodiles and alligators one of the most evolutionarily successful animal groups on earth.

In mammals and birds, the heart is also divided into four chambers: two atria and two ventricles, as illustrated in [link] d . The oxygenated blood is separated from the deoxygenated blood, which improves the efficiency of double circulation and is probably required for the warm-blooded lifestyle of mammals and birds. The four-chambered heart of birds and mammals evolved independently from a three-chambered heart. The independent evolution of the same or a similar biological trait is referred to as convergent evolution.

Section summary

In most animals, the circulatory system is used to transport blood through the body. Some primitive animals use diffusion for the exchange of water, nutrients, and gases. However, complex organisms use the circulatory system to carry gases, nutrients, and waste through the body. Circulatory systems may be open (mixed with the interstitial fluid) or closed (separated from the interstitial fluid). Closed circulatory systems are a characteristic of vertebrates; however, there are significant differences in the structure of the heart and the circulation of blood between the different vertebrate groups due to adaptions during evolution and associated differences in anatomy. Fish have a two-chambered heart with unidirectional circulation. Amphibians have a three-chambered heart, which has some mixing of the blood, and they have double circulation. Most non-avian reptiles have a three-chambered heart, but have little mixing of the blood; they have double circulation. Mammals and birds have a four-chambered heart with no mixing of the blood and double circulation.

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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