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Dr Martin How

Dr Martin How

Dr Martin How
BA (Oxon), MSc, PhD

Royal Society University Research Fellow

Area of research

Polarisation vision in marine crustaceans

Life Sciences Building,
24 Tyndall Avenue, Bristol BS8 1TQ
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+44 (0) 117 39 41202


Animal vision is often very different from our own. As humans, we can become complacent about the level of visual information around us, assuming that what we see is all that there is. However, the more that we understand about animal vision, the more that we must recognise the different ways that animals view their world. Stepping out of our own sensory realm to try to understand how different species sense their own environments represents an exciting challenge to science and is a field that I find deeply fascinating.

I have spent my career trying to see the world from the perspective of invertebrates. For my PhD I studied the visually guided behaviour of fiddler crabs at the Australian National University by filming and processing natural scenes of signalling fiddler crabs from a crab’s perspective. I then studied the
communication signals of the giant cuttlefish, which uses chromatophore organs to produce moving body patterns. I subsequently moved to the University of Queensland (UQ) to investigate the remarkable visual system of mantis shrimps. These crustaceans possess one of the most complex eyes in the natural world,
with 12 different colour receptors and at least 6 different polarization channels. Here, I contributed to the ground-breaking discovery that these animals use a serial colour vision system unlike any known in nature (Science 343:411-413). In recent years I have become fascinated by why some animals have opted to use
the polarization of light instead of colour. My recent work has shown that some species of crustacean use a sensitive polarization vision system instead of colour. This is a new and exciting field of visual ecology offering multiple avenues of research at the anatomical, physiological, behavioural and ecological scales.
Furthermore, we are now beginning to identify a number of biologically inspired technological applications for these findings in the fields of neuroscience, medicine, material science, sensor design, and image processing.

Activities / Findings

How, M.J. & Marshall, N.J. In Press. Polarisation distance: a framework for modelling detection by polarisation vision systems. Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Thoen, H.T., How, M.J., Chiou, T-H. & Marshall, N.J. In Press. A new form of colour vision in the mantis shrimp. Science.

How, M.J. & Zanker, J.M. In Press. Motion camouflage induced by zebra stripes. Zoology. Feb 2014.

Recent publications

View complete publications list in the University of Bristol publications system

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