• How do the 20-channel of information eyes of the mantis shrimp visual system efficiently encode information to the brain? Is there a form of sparse code at play? What can this teach us about more efficient and rapid ways to examine our own planet (assuming mantis shrimps are from another one).

  • The ring-shaped and dispersed cephalopod brain is designed very differently to that of the vertebrates or indeed other invertebrates. However, their cognitive abilities rival medium sized mammals (your dog or cat); so how does this different brain design achieve the same complexity of behaviour?

  • Anemonefish (Nemo) are brightly coloured and can see UV. Why – what are the colours and extended vision for?

The mechanisms behind colour vision and polarisation vision in fish, stomatopod crustaceans and the cephalopods have been a focus in the last few years with important discoveries published in top-tier journals such as Science, Nature journals, Current Biology, and Current Opinion in Neurobiology.

An astonishing parallel between insect and crustacean brains has been unearthed by Hanne Thoen and co-workers. Gene duplication and anatomical specialisation in fish, discovered by Fabio Cortesi, Fanny de Busserolles and co-workers, is helping us realise fish colour vision is far more comprehensive than previously thought. The cephalopod team led by Wen-Sung Chung is using new brain imaging methods to unlock the secrets in the brains of octopus squid and cuttlefish, the world’s most intelligent invertebrates. Our resident engineer, Sam Powell is investigating how the mantis shrimp visual system can help with GPS denied navigation underwater – without the need to surface.

  • KL Carleton, D Escobar-Camacho, SM Stieb, F Cortesi and NJ Marshall, 2020. Seeing the rainbow: mechanisms underlying spectral sensitivity in teleost fishes. The Journal of Experimental Biology 223, jeb193334.

  • Z Musilova, F Cortesi, M Matschiner, WIL Davies, JS Patel, SM Stieb, NJ Marshall (2019). Vision using multiple distinct rod opsins in deep-sea fishes. Science 364 (6440), 588-592.

  • F Cortesi, Musilová, Z., Stieb, S.M., Hart, N.S., Siebeck, U.E., Malmstrøm, M., Tørresen, O.K., Jentoft, S., Cheney, K.L. & Marshall, N.J. (2015) Ancestral duplications and highly dynamic opsin gene evolution in percomorph fishes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112, 1493-1498.

  • IC Cuthill, T Caro, NJ Marshall et al (2017). The biology of color. Science, 357(6350), eaan0221.

  • NJ Marshall, S Johnsen (2017). Fluorescence as a means of colour signal enhancement. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 372(1724), 20160335.

  • IM Daly, MJ How, JC Partridge, SE Temple, NJ Marshall, TW Cronin, et al. (2016) Dynamic polarization vision in mantis shrimps. Nature Communications.

  • T York, Powell, S.B., Gao, S., Kahan, L., Charanya, T., Saha, D., Roberts, N.W., Cronin, T.W., Marshall, J. & Achilefu, S. (2014) Bioinspired polarization imaging sensors: from circuits and optics to signal processing algorithms and biomedical applications. Proceedings of the IEEE, 102, 1450-1469.

  • WS Chung and NJ Marshall 2014 Range-finding in squid using retinal deformation and image blur. Current Biology. 24 (2): R64-R65.

  • TW Cronin, S Johnsen, NJ Marshall and EJ Warrant 2014 Visual Ecology. Princeton University Press.

  • HH Thoen, MJ How, TH Chiou and NJ Marshall 2014 A different form of colour vision in Mantis shrimps. Science 343: 411-413.

  • SE Temple, V Pignatelli, T Cook, MJ  How, T-H Chiou, NW Roberts and NJ Marshall 2012 High Resolution polarisation vision in a cuttlefish. Current Biology 22:R121.

  • NW Roberts1, T-H Chiou, NJ Marshall and TW Cronin 2009 A biological quarter-wave retarder with excellent achromaticity in the visible wavelength region. Nature Photonics 3:641-644.

  • Tsyr-Huei Chiou, T-H, et al and Marshall, N.J 2008 Circular Polarization Vision in a Stomatopod Crustacean. Current Biology, 18, 429-434.

  • CH Mazel, TW Cronin, RL Caldwell and NJ Marshall 2004 Fluorescent enhancement of signalling in a mantis shrimp. Science 303:51.

  • KE Arnold, IPF Owens and NJ Marshall 2002 Fluorescent signaling in parrots. Science. 295:92-93.

  • TW Cronin, NJ Marshall and RL Caldwell 2001 Tunable colour vision in a mantis shrimp. Nature 411:547-548.

  • NJ Marshall and J Oberwinkler 1999. The colourful world of the mantis shrimp. Nature 401:873-874.

  • NJ Marshall and JB Messenger 1996. Colour-blind camouflage.  Nature 382:408 409.

  • TW Cronin and NJ Marshall, 1989 (Front cover). A Retina with at least Ten Spectral Types of Photoreceptors in a Mantis Shrimp. Nature 339: 137-140.

  • NJ Marshall, 1988. A Unique Colour and Polarization Vision System in Mantis Shrimps. Nature 333: 557-560.

View all publications

  • Visual ecology
  • Visual neuroscience
  • Colour vision
  • Polarisation vision
  • Behavioural ecology
  • Coral reef and deep-sea ecology

Fish Vision

Some of reef fish are able to change their colours rapidly depending on the situation they are in. In addition to the amazing colours we as humans see, many fish can also see and use ultraviolet (UV) as a colour to communicate in their environment. As a research group we are particularly interested in addressing fundamental questions relating to what fish see and how this impacts their general ecology through both intra- and inter- species communication, feeding, camouflage and predation. We are currently working closely with Nemo the anemonefish and Dory the blue surgeonfish, not because they are film stars but because each has a fascinating story to tell in visual ecology

Cephalopod Vision

Adding to our interest in crustacean vision (see stomatopods but not forgetting fiddler crabs), and again using a system-wide approach incorporating physiology, ecology, anatomy, behaviour, neural integration and advanced imagining, we hope to determine what cephalopods (octopus, squid, cuttlefish) see and in particular how their brain processes this information. The first preparation used to discover how nerves function was a squid and the last detailed work on cephalopod neuroanatomy is over 50 years old. We are returning to this model system to learn more but now using new techniques such as whole brain connectomics and MRI. Our aim is to understand how cephalopods see their world and communicate. How do they use their remarkable and famous camouflage while being colour blind? Have they ‘replaced’ colour vision with polarisation?

Stomatopod Vision

Stomatopods (mantis shrimps) are colourful marine crustaceans that live in reef environments as well as other less tropical and more muddy-bottom habitats. Stomatopod eyes contain up to 20 different functional input channels. These include 12 colour receptors (humans have only 3), 6 for linear polarisation (including a specialised UV polarisation channel) and 2 for circular polarization. Through an integrative whole-systems approach based on anatomy, physiology, ecology, behaviour, neural integration and advanced imagining, we hope to understand how and what these animals see, and how these animals process this complex information. This knowledge will help us determine how stomatopods use both colour and polarization to communicate and make decisions within their environment.  We are already using this information in the bio-inspired design of optics and camera sensors.

Deep Sea

Our key aims are to discover, observe and document new life forms from the deep sea and their associated sensory systems. We have developed an array of custom-made, state-of-the-art marine technology that enables us to sample organisms, measure environmental parameters and capture in situ footage of deep sea organisms like never before. Everything from the 20m long Giant Squid to the 5cm long lanternfish and not forgetting the amazing anglerfish.

Birds, Reptiles, Other Animals

The interests of the Marshall group often lead our researchers away from the lab’s model marine animals and into other exciting research areas where key concepts are applied to a diverse range of questions, applications and animals. For example, researchers from the group have looked at colour communication and retinal neurophysiology in birds, bats, how jellyfish see, how spiders find the right rock to hide under and the evolutionary impact of body colour in lizards.

Coral Watch

CoralWatch is a non-profit citizen-science organisation based out of the Marshall Lab.  It is a community data gathering and environmental awareness project now in use by over 8000 volunteers in more than 137 countries and translated into 12 languages. CoralWatch integrates global monitoring of coral bleaching and reef health with education about coral reef conservation. We have education packs for teachers (curriculum friendly), run teacher PDs and Ambassadors camps several times a year. Our main push now is to show how you do not even have to get to the reef to help save it! Visit www.coralwatch.org  for more information and find out how you can save the reef from home.