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Human vision inadequate for research on bird vision
Date:5/12/2008

The most attractive male birds attract more females and as a result are most successful in terms of reproduction. This is the starting point of many studies looking for factors that influence sexual selection in birds. However, is it reasonable to assume that birds see what we see? In a study published in the latest issue of American Naturalist, Uppsala researchers show that our human vision is not an adequate instrument.

The results mean that many studies on sexual selection may need to be re-evaluated, says Anders Odeen, research assistant at the Department of Animal Ecology at Uppsala University, who carried out this study with his colleague Olle Hstad.

The significance of birds plumage, both in terms of richness of colour and particular signals, has been shown to be a major factor in birds choice of partner. In order to assess the colours of birds, everything from binoculars to RGB image analyses are used. However, most studies are based on the hypothesis that human colour vision can be used to assess what birds see.

Its a bit like a colour blind person describing the colours of clothes its often quite accurate but sometimes it can go badly wrong.

This problem has been discussed in the research arena, but so far no study has been able to show its extent. The Uppsala researchers used a mathematical model to investigate how bird and human retina work. Using the model combined with information on differences in the colour-sensitive cones of the eye, they have been able to figure out how colour contrasts are perceived. Greater colour contrast can be translated as richness of colour or more brightly coloured.

We show that the colours are perceived differently in over 39 percent of cases, which means that it is possible that more than one third of previous studies have been based on inaccurate information.

The differences were partly due to the fact that human vision cannot perceive UV light, while avian visi
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Contact: Anders Odeen
Anders.Odeen@ebc.uu.se
46-070-301-5262
Uppsala University
Source:Eurekalert

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