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The ecology of visual pigment tuning in an Australian marsupial: the honey possum Tarsipes rostratus

Sumner, Petroc, Arrese, Catherine A. and Partridge, Julian C. 2005. The ecology of visual pigment tuning in an Australian marsupial: the honey possum Tarsipes rostratus. Journal of Experimental Biology 208 (10) , pp. 1803-1815. 10.1242/jeb.01610

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Abstract

While most mammals have no more than two types of cone photoreceptor, four species of Australian marsupial have recently been shown to possess three types, and thus have the potential for trichromatic colour vision. Interestingly, the long-wave cones of the honey possum Tarsipes rostratus are tuned to longer wavelengths than those of the other species measured to date. We tested whether the honey possum's long-wave tuning is adaptive for visual tasks associated with its almost unique diet of nectar and pollen. We modelled three tasks: (1) detecting food-rich `target' flowers against their natural background of foliage or other vegetation; (2) discriminating target flowers from flowers of non-target species; (3) discerning the maturity of the most important target flowers. Initial comparisons of trichromacy vs dichromacy generally favoured the former, but interestingly dichromacy was no disadvantage in some cases. For tuning, we found that overall the honey possum's long-wave tuning is more adaptive than that of the other marsupial species. Nevertheless, the optimal tuning for tasks 1 and 2 would be at longer wavelengths still, implying that a different pressure or constraint operates against a further long-wave shift of the honey possum's L cone tuning. Our data show that a possible ecological pressure may be provided by the third task - the difficult and potentially critical discrimination of the maturity of the animal's major food supply, the flowers of Banksia attenuata.

Item Type: Article
Status: Published
Schools: Psychology
Uncontrolled Keywords: colour vision; ecology of vision; trichromacy; dichromacy; mammal; long wave cone; middle wave cone; optimisation
Publisher: Company of Biologists
ISSN: 0022-0949
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2017 04:05
URI: http://orca.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/32637

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