Low-Resolution Vision-at the Hub of Eye Evolution

Dan-E Nilsson, Michael J Bok

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Simple roles for photoreception are likely to have preceded more demanding ones such as vision. The driving force behind this evolution is the improvement and elaboration of animal behaviors using photoreceptor input. Because the basic role for all senses aimed at the external world is to guide behavior, we argue here that understanding this "behavioral drive" is essential for unraveling the evolutionary past of the senses. Photoreception serves many different types of behavior, from simple shadow responses to visual communication. Based on minimum performance requirements for different types of tasks, photoreceptors have been argued to have evolved from non-directional receptors, via directional receptors, to low-resolution vision, and finally to high-resolution vision. Through this sequence, the performance requirements on the photoreceptors have gradually changed from broad to narrow angular sensitivity, from slow to fast response, and from low to high contrast sensitivity during the evolution from simple to more advanced and demanding behaviors. New behaviors would only evolve if their sensory performance requirements to some degree overlap with the requirements of already existing behaviors. This need for sensory "performance continuity" must have determined the order by which behaviors have evolved and thus been an important factor guiding animal evolution. Naturally, new behaviors are most likely to evolve from already existing behaviors with similar neural processing needs and similar motor responses, pointing to "neural continuity" as another guiding factor in sensory evolution. Here we use these principles to derive an evolutionary tree for behaviors driven by photoreceptor input.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1066-1070
Number of pages5
JournalIntegrative and Comparative Biology
Issue number5
Early online date30 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017


  • Journal Article


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