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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2000 Sep 29;355(1401):1315-20.

Foveate vision in deep-sea teleosts: a comparison of primary visual and olfactory inputs.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, The University of Western Australia, Nedlands, Australia.


The relative importance of vision in a foveate group of alepocephalid teleosts is examined in the context of a deep-sea habitat beyond the penetration limits of sunlight. The large eyes of Conocara spp. possess deep convexiclivate foveae lined with Müller cells comprising radial shafts of intermediate filaments and horizontal processes. Photoreceptor cell (171.8 x 10(3) rods mm(-2)) and retinal ganglion cell (11.9 x 10(3) cells mm(-2)) densities peak within the foveal clivus and the perifloveal slopes, respectively, with a centro-peripheral gradient between 3:1 (photoreceptors) and over 20:1 (ganglion cells). The marked increase in retinal sampling localized in temporal retina, coupled with a high summation ratio (13:1), suggest that foveal vision optimizes both spatial resolving power and sensitivity in the binocular frontal visual field. The elongated optic nerve head is comprised of over 500 optic papillae, which join at the embryonic fissure to form a thin nervous sheet behind the eye. The optic nerve is divided into two axonal bundles; one receiving input from the fovea (only unmyelinated axons) and the other from non-specialized retinal regions (25% of axons are myelinated), both of which appear to be separated as they reach the visual centres of the central nervous system. Comparison of the number of primary (first-order) axonal pathways for the visual (a total of 63.4 x 10(6) rod photoreceptors) and olfactory (a total of 15.24 x 10(3) olfactory nerve axons) inputs shows a marked visual bias (ratio of 41:1). Coupled with the relative size of the optic tecta (44.0 mm3) and olfactory bulbs (0.9 mm3), vision appears to play a major role in the survival of these deep-sea teleosts and emphasizes that ecological and behavioural strategies account for significant variation in sensory brain structure.

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