Visual ecology captures the variety of life

12 Aug 2014

The clever and beautiful solutions animals have found to survive often centre on their ability to see – or not be seen – and is the subject of a new book by leaders in the field of visual science.

Professor Justin Marshall, co-author of Visual Ecology and the head of QBI’s Sensory Neurobiology Group at The University of Queensland, said the book places visual neuroscience back into the real world and answers why visual systems have evolved the way they have.

“If flies had vision as slow as humans they wouldn’t survive – you could swat them and predators could catch them every time, but their evolution has driven a visual system that is more than 10 times faster than ours,” Professor Marshall said.

“It’s about answering why the fly on the front cover has – and needs – big googly eyes, or why some fish have eyes that point forwards while the eyes of other fish point sideways,” he said.

“The answer is that the vision of all animals is all driven by our environment – the brightness level of the light and the colour content of the light in that environment, and that combines into developing strategies to survive.”

“This combination of physics, visual neuroscience and ecology is what Visual Ecology is.”

The 432-page hardcover book features 225 illustrations, more than 140 in colour.

Topics such as basic properties of light and the optical environment are discussed, as well as how photoreceptors in eyes interpret that light.

The book goes on to discuss how evolution has driven vision to become a highly specialised tool for survival, whether it is for communicating, mating, navigating, finding food or just as importantly avoiding becoming food.

“We’ve made Visual Ecology accessible to a wide readership who is interested in the natural world and understanding one of the mechanisms in life and survival,” Professor Marshall said.

Visual Ecology, published by Princeton University Press, is available now and updates John Lythgoe’s The Ecology of Vision published in 1979 and now out of print.

Media: Darius Koreis, +61 7 3346 6353,; Professor Justin Marshall, +61 7 3345 1397, +61 423 024 162,