Swimming Behaviour Tunes Fish Polarization Vision to Double Prey Sighting Distance

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Scholarly level: 
Final version published as: 

Novales Flamarique, Iñigo. (2019). Swimming behaviour tunes fish polarization vision to double prey sighting distance. Scientific Reports. 9. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-37632-1

Date created: 

The analysis of the polarization of light expands vision beyond the realm of colour and intensity and is used for multiple ecological purposes among invertebrates including orientation, object recognition, and communication. How vertebrates use polarization vision as part of natural behaviours is widely unknown. In this study, I tested the hypothesis that polarization vision improves the detection of zooplankton prey by the northern anchovy, Engraulis mordax, the only vertebrate with a demonstrated photoreceptor basis explaining its polarization sensitivity. Juvenile anchovies were recorded free foraging on zooplankton under downwelling light fields of varying percent polarization (98%, 67%, 19%, and 0% - unpolarized light). Analyses of prey attack sequences showed that anchovies swam in the horizontal plane perpendicular, on average, to the polarization direction of downwelling light and attacked prey at pitch angles that maximized polarization contrast perception of prey by the ventro-temporal retina, the area devoted to polarization vision in this animal. Consequently, the mean prey location distance under polarized light was up to 2.1 times that under unpolarized conditions. All indicators of polarization vision mediated foraging were present under 19% polarization, which is within the polarization range commonly found in nature during daylight hours. These results demonstrate: (i) the first use of oriented swimming for enhancing polarization contrast detection of prey, (ii) its relevance to improved foraging under available light cues in nature, and (iii) an increase in target detection distance that is only matched by polarization based artificial systems.

Document type: 
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)