Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Articles


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Journal of Comparative Physiology A



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Spatial resolution, Fish vision, Visual ecology, Light level, Deep sea


Eyes in low-light environments typically must balance sensitivity and spatial resolution. Vertebrate eyes with large "pixels" (e.g., retinal ganglion cells with inputs from many photoreceptors) will be sensitive but provide coarse vision. Small pixels can render finer detail, but each pixel will gather less light, and thus have poor signal relative-to-noise, leading to lower contrast sensitivity. This balance is particularly critical in oceanic species at mesopelagic depths (200–1000 m) because they experience low light and live in a medium that significantly attenuates contrast. Depending on the spatial frequency and inherent contrast of a pattern being viewed, the viewer’s pupil size and temporal resolution, and the ambient light level and water clarity, a visual acuity exists that maximizes the distance at which the pattern can be discerned. We develop a model that predicts this acuity for common conditions in the open ocean, and compare it to visual acuity in marine teleost fishes and elasmobranchs found at various depths in productive and oligotrophic waters. Visual acuity in epipelagic and upper mesopelagic species aligned well with model predictions, but species at lower mesopelagic depths (> 600 m) had far higher measured acuities than predicted. This is consistent with the prediction that animals found at lower mesopelagic depths operate in a visual world consisting primarily of bioluminescent point sources, where high visual acuity helps localize targets of this kind. Overall, the results suggest that visual acuity in oceanic fish and elasmobranchs is under depth-dependent selection for detecting either extended patterns or point sources.




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Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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