Polarization vision mitigates visual noise from flickering light underwater

Sian Vincent Venables, Christian Drerup, Samuel B. Powell, N. Justin Marshall, James E Herbert-Read, Martin J How*

*Corresponding author for this work

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

10 Citations (Scopus)
127 Downloads (Pure)


In shallow water, downwelling light is refracted from surface waves onto the substrate creating bands of light that fluctuate in both time and space, known as caustics. This dynamic illumination can be a visual hindrance for animals in shallow underwater environments. Animals in such habitats may have evolved to use polarization vision for discriminating objects while ignoring the variations in illumination caused by caustics. To explore this possibility, crabs (Carcinus maenas) and cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis), both of which possess polarization vision, were presented with moving stimuli overlaid with caustics. Dynamic caustics inhibited the detection of an intensity-based stimulus, but not when these stimuli were polarized. This study is the first to demonstrate that polarization vision reduces the negative impacts that dynamic illumination can have on visual perception.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbereabq2770
Pages (from-to)1-6
Number of pages6
JournalScience Advances
Issue number36
Publication statusPublished - 9 Sept 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank A. Harvey, E. Sullivan, E. Stuart, and K. Atkins at the Marine Biological Association, Plymouth for assistance with cuttlefish care, apparatus building, and support during experiments. C.D. was supported by a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) C-CLEAR PhD studentship (NE/S007164/1) and a Cambridge Trust European Scholarship. S.B.P. and N.J.M. were supported by The Office of Naval Research Global (N62909-18-1-2134) and the Asian Office of Aerospace Research and Development (AOARD-13-4134). N.J.M. was also supported by the Australian Research Council (FL140100197). J.E.H.-R. was supported by the Whitten Lectureship in Marine Biology and a Swedish Research Council grant 2018-04076. M.J.H. was funded by Royal Society URF\R\201021.

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