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Brain Behav Evol. 2006;68(1):15-25. Epub 2006 Mar 24.

The retina of tyrant flycatchers: topographic organization of neuronal density and size in the ganglion cell layer of the great kiskadee Pitangus sulphuratus and the rusty margined flycatcher Myiozetetes cayanensis (Aves: Tyrannidae).

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Laboratório de Neuropatologia Experimental, Departamento de Fisiologia, Centro de Ciências Biológicas, Universidade Federal do Pará, UFPA, Belém, PA, Brazil.


Tyrant flycatchers comprise the largest group of passerine birds of the Neotropical region but their retinal organization is unknown. The great kiskadee, Pitangus sulphuratus, is categorized as a supreme generalist and utilizes a variety of foraging strategies. The rusty margined flycatcher, Myiozetetes cayanensis, is partially frugivorous and captures insects in the air. Using retinal wholemounts, we described the topographic distribution of density and size of neurons lying in the retinal ganglion cell layer in those two species of tyrant flycatchers. Maps of neuron distribution showing isodensity contours revealed the presence of a pronounced central fovea and a temporal area in both species. Both retinal specializations were circumscribed by an inconspicuous horizontal visual streak. The highest foveal densities ranged from 48,000 to 55,000 cells/mm(2) for Pitangus sulphuratus and between 62,000 and 65,000 cells/mm(2) for Myiozetetes cayanensis. The peak density in the temporal area was around 40,000 cells/mm(2) for Pitangus sulphuratus and 46,000 cells/mm(2) for Myiozetetes cayanensis. At central, mid-peripheral and peripheral eccentricities, perikaryon size varied quite similarly in both species. A cohort of giant retinal ganglion cells with perikaryon size > 300 microm(2) was observed at the temporal periphery and defines an 'area giganto cellularis' described previously in procellariiform seabirds. This specialization is thought to be involved in movement detection and could aid the tyrant flycatchers to capture moving prey. Functionally, the presence of a fovea associated with a temporal area would allow high spatial resolution for capturing insects by the tyrant flycatchers. Nonetheless, even though both species exhibit different foraging strategies, they shared a similar topographic arrangement of neuronal density in the ganglion cell layer. This suggests that the retinal topography did not accompany changes in the foraging ecology throughout evolutionary history for these species of tyrant flycatchers.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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