Visual perception in non-human animals: lessons from cleaner shrimp and zebra finches
Postdoctoral Fellow, Duke University
In the early 1900’s, Jakob von Uexküll used the term “umwelt” to describe the perceptual world in which organisms exist and act. In particular, he predicted that different sensory capabilities should result in very different umwelten. Since then, advances in our understanding of sensory physiology have confirmed that animal sensory capabilities are hugely diverse. One challenge we face, however, is that sensory physiology does not directly predict perception. To better understand animals’ perceptual worlds, we can combine studies of visual capability with animal behavior to examine how animals process and respond to sensory stimuli. In this talk, I will outline my work studying visual perception. I will focus first on visual acuity, the ability to perceive detail. From a literature synthesis, I have shown that acuity varies over at least four orders of magnitude in animals with image-forming eyes. Acuity should thus represent a significant influence on perception and an important selective pressure on the visual signals by which some animals communicate. I will then discuss two lines of my research that investigate visual perception in animals: cleaner shrimp and zebra finches. Using the cleaner shrimp and client fish mutualism, I have incorporated measures of visual capability into in situ behavioral observations to examine links between signaling behaviors, visual capabilities, and behavioral outcomes. In zebra finches, I have used behavioral trials combined with knowledge about visual physiology to examine perceptual processing, specifically categorical perception of color.