The Ecology of Vision Research Unit comprises members of staff with diverse research and teaching activities that are linked by a common interest in how animal vision functions in the context of the environment in which different species operate. Sensory Ecology was highlighted in the last Research Assessment Exercise as a particular strength of the School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol.
The Ecology of Vision tackles a pivotal task within Zoology: to understand how structures and functions of organisms relate to behaviour and environment, and to place this information in an evolutionary context. Visual systems are generally thought to be highly adapted to the specific conditions imposed by both an animal's environment and by its visual tasks. Undoubtedly, a central feature of this process has been the evolution of retinal photoreceptors that are tuned to particular wavelengths, this being achieved by the evolution of specific visual pigments, each with its own spectral sensitivity, and often combining these with intra-ocular filters. Whilst some animals function with a few broad-band photoreceptors others, as diverse as birds, turtles and mantis shrimps, have evolved a multiplicity of narrow-band retinal photoreceptors. In addition, spectral sensitivities show great variation between ecologically distinct groups of animals, between species, and within individuals over time.
Unit members have active links with research initiatives within the University of Bristol, particularly:
The broad aim of The Ecology of Vision Group within the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Bristol is to seeks to understand variation in spectral sensitivity by the application of multidisciplinary methods. The approaches include: computer modelling of the visual tasks of individual animals to predict which visual pigments are optimal for colour contrast discrimination tasks; the application of statistics to spectral reflexion measurements; analyses of the visual environment with image processing and spectroradioimetric techniques; measurement of the photoreceptor pigments within single rods and cones using microspectrophotometry (MSP); sequencing of visual pigment proteins (opsins) using molecular biological methods; and behavioural experiments. Animals from a wide range of environments are investigated but stress has been placed on fishes because they live in an extremely wide range of visual environments and, most importantly, there is a wealth of existing data which demonstrate (but do not explain) the strong evolutionary pressure on visual pigments towards ecological adaptation. Nevertheless, research is wide ranging encompassing work as diverse as the role of ultraviolet vision in birds, to flower discrimination by Australian marsupials, to vision and bioluminescence in deep sea fish, with research approaches ranging from receptor cell physiology to behavioural experiments.
We are always interested in hearing from potential research fellows and graduate students (Ph.D. or M.Sc. by research) with an interest in visual ecology