(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists have determined that land-dwelling animals distinguish more colors than water-adapted animals, according to a new study.
By collecting vision data from hundreds of vertebrates and invertebrates, biologists at the University of Arkansas determined that land-adapted animals are able to see more colors than water-adapted animals.
However, according to scientists, evolutionary history – primarily the difference between vertebrates and invertebrates – significantly affects what colors a particular species sees. Invertebrates see more short wavelengths of light compared to vertebrates.
The ability of an animal to recognize visual information depends on the wavelength and intensity of light in a given environment.
The quantity and wavelength sensitivity of a family of retinal proteins called opsins determine the spectrum of light an animal sees, from ultraviolet to far red light.
However, invertebrates and vertebrates use phylogenetically different opsins in their retinas, and researchers have not determined whether these different opsins affect what animals see or how they adapt to their light environment.
Scientists compared vision data for 446 animal species belonging to four types. One of these phyla contained vertebrates. The remaining types contained invertebrates such as insects, squids and jellyfish.
The study showed that while animals do adapt to their environment, their ability to adapt may be physiologically limited.
While vertebrates and invertebrates in general use the same cell type to see, they build those cells differently.
This physiological difference may explain why invertebrates are better at seeing short wavelength light, even when the environment predisposes vertebrates to also see short wavelength light.
The difference may be due to stochastic genetic mutations occurring in vertebrates that can limit the range of light in their vision, the scientists say.
“Our study answers some important questions,” said biology PhD student Matt Murphy, “but it also raises more questions that could help us better understand animal vision.
We can do more to assess differences in the structure of the retina between vertebrates and invertebrates, or how their brains process visual information differently.”
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