Eye - Relationship To Life Requirements

Relationship To Life Requirements

Eyes are generally adapted to the environment and life requirements of the organism which bears them. For instance, the distribution of photoreceptors tends to match the area in which the highest acuity is required, with horizon-scanning organisms, such as those that live on the African plains, having a horizontal line of high-density ganglia, while tree-dwelling creatures which require good all-round vision tend to have a symmetrical distribution of ganglia, with acuity decreasing outwards from the centre.

Of course, for most eye types, it is impossible to diverge from a spherical form, so only the density of optical receptors can be altered. In organisms with compound eyes, it is the number of ommatidia rather than ganglia that reflects the region of highest data acquisition. Optical superposition eyes are constrained to a spherical shape, but other forms of compound eyes may deform to a shape where more ommatidia are aligned to, say, the horizon, without altering the size or density of individual ommatidia. Eyes of horizon-scanning organisms have stalks so they can be easily aligned to the horizon when this is inclined, for example if the animal is on a slope. An extension of this concept is that the eyes of predators typically have a zone of very acute vision at their centre, to assist in the identification of prey. In deep water organisms, it may not be the centre of the eye that is enlarged. The hyperiid amphipods are deep water animals that feed on organisms above them. Their eyes are almost divided into two, with the upper region thought to be involved in detecting the silhouettes of potential prey—or predators—against the faint light of the sky above. Accordingly, deeper water hyperiids, where the light against which the silhouettes must be compared is dimmer, have larger "upper-eyes", and may lose the lower portion of their eyes altogether. Depth perception can be enhanced by having eyes which are enlarged in one direction; distorting the eye slightly allows the distance to the object to be estimated with a high degree of accuracy.

Acuity is higher among male organisms that mate in mid-air, as they need to be able to spot and assess potential mates against a very large backdrop. On the other hand, the eyes of organisms which operate in low light levels, such as around dawn and dusk or in deep water, tend to be larger to increase the amount of light that can be captured.

It is not only the shape of the eye that may be affected by lifestyle. Eyes can be the most visible parts of organisms, and this can act as a pressure on organisms to have more transparent eyes at the cost of function.

Eyes may be mounted on stalks to provide better all-round vision, by lifting them above an organism's carapace; this also allows them to track predators or prey without moving the head.

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