Propagation and perception of bioluminescence: factors affecting counterillumination as a cryptic strategy.
Many deep-sea species, particularly crustaceans, cephalopods, and fish, use photophores to illuminate their ventral surfaces and thus disguise their silhouettes from predators viewing them from below. This strategy has several potential limitations, two of which are examined here. First, a predator with acute vision may be able to detect the individual photophores on the ventral surface. Second, a predator may be able to detect any mismatch between the spectrum of the bioluminescence and that of the background light. The first limitation was examined by modeling the perceived images of the counterillumination of the squid Abralia veranyi and the myctophid fish Ceratoscopelus maderensis as a function of the distance and visual acuity of the viewer. The second limitation was addressed by measuring downwelling irradiance under moonlight and starlight and then modeling underwater spectra. Four water types were examined: coastal water at a depth of 5 m and oceanic water at 5, 210, and 800 m. The appearance of the counterillumination was more affected by the visual acuity of the viewer than by the clarity of the water, even at relatively large distances. Species with high visual acuity (0.11 degrees resolution) were able to distinguish the individual photophores of some counterilluminating signals at distances of several meters, thus breaking the camouflage. Depth and the presence or absence of moonlight strongly affected the spectrum of the background light, particularly near the surface. The increased variability near the surface was partially offset by the higher contrast attenuation at shallow depths, which reduced the sighting distance of mismatches. This research has implications for the study of spatial resolution, contrast sensitivity, and color discrimination in deep-sea visual systems.
Johnsen, S; Widder, EA; Mobley, CD
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