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Visual pigments and optical habitats of surfperch (Embiotocidae) in the California kelp forest.

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  • 1Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, UCSB, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA.


We studied the optical microhabitat use and visual pigment variation among a group of closely related teleosts (surfperch: Embiotocidae) living along the nearshore central California coast. We employed a diver-operated spectroradiometer to record the optical microhabitat use of eight surfperch species in Monterey Bay. and microspectrophotometry to measure visual pigment absorbance for nine surfperch species. Species were dichromatic with mixtures of A1- and A2-based visual pigments exhibiting extensive maximum absorbance (lambda(max)) variation across species: 455-482 nm for SWS cones and 527-546 nm for LWS cones. Interspecific variation in sidewelling irradiance measurements (mean lambdaFmaxs) significantly accounted for 63% of the variation in surfperch LWS visual pigments and 83% of the interspecific variation in SWS visual pigments using a phylogenetically-corrected regression technique. Optimality models for maximizing relative photon capture of background radiance demonstrate that the LWS cone lambda(max) values are tuned for maximizing photon capture of the species-specific horizontal visual field, while the SWS cone lambda(max), are well offset from the dominant background radiance. This study is one of the first to demonstrate species-specific differences in habitat usage at microhabitat scales accounting for differences in photoreceptor peak absorbance among closely related, sympatric species.

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