Thumbnail Image

Kiwi forego vision in the guidance of their nocturnal activities

Martin, G
Wilson, K
Wild, J
Parsons, S
Kubke, M
Corfield, J
Journal Article
Fields of Research
Background: In vision, there is a trade-off between sensitivity and resolution, and any eye which maximises information gain at low light levels needs to be large. This imposes exacting constraints upon vision in nocturnal flying birds. Eyes are essentially heavy, fluid-filled chambers, and in flying birds their increased size is countered by selection for both reduced body mass and the distribution of mass towards the body core. Freed from these mass constraints, it would be predicted that in flightless birds nocturnality should favour the evolution of large eyes and reliance upon visual cues for the guidance of activity. Methodology/Principal Findings: We show that in Kiwi (Apterygidae), flightlessness and nocturnality have, in fact, resulted in the opposite outcome. Kiwi show minimal reliance upon vision indicated by eye structure, visual field topography, and brain structures, and increased reliance upon tactile and olfactory information. Conclusions/Significance: This lack of reliance upon vision and increased reliance upon tactile and olfactory information in Kiwi is markedly similar to the situation in nocturnal mammals that exploit the forest floor. That Kiwi and mammals evolved to exploit these habitats quite independently provides evidence for convergent evolution in their sensory capacities that are tuned to a common set of perceptual challenges found in forest floor habitats at night and which cannot be met by the vertebrate visual system. We propose that the Kiwi visual system has undergone adaptive regressive evolution driven by the trade-off between the relatively low rate of gain of visual information that is possible at low light levels, and the metabolic costs of extracting that information.
Copyright © 2007 Martin et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Creative Commons Rights
Access Rights