The Phylogenetic Evolution of the Visual System

  • Silvana Vallerga


The first eye could only tell light from dark, then motion, colours and forms became visual images. Through phylogenetic evolution a large number of visual systems have been originated and shaped to increase general efficiency and to adapt to the available ecological niches. The compound eyes of invertebrates are best at short distance sight. Their field of view is almost spherical. Many invertebrates can see from ultraviolet to infrared, and detect the plane of polarisation of light. Vertebrates have developed different visual structures to achieve high acuity and accommodation. The retina of fish, the ancestors of all vertebrates, is a mini-brain performing complex visual tasks as motion detection and is an example of ongoing adaptation to different environments; during development retinal cells modify to adapt to changes in habitat and habit. In higher vertebrates retinal processing is greatly reduced and substituted by the much more efficient central processing. Extended colour vision and detection of polarised light are lost in humans, but we can tune our vision to read a book or to look at the stars.


Visual System Bipolar Cell Colour Vision Amacrine Cell Visual Pigment 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Silvana Vallerga
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Istituto di Cibernetica e Biofisica del CNRGenovaItaly
  2. 2.International Marine CentreTorregrande (OR)Italy

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