Cryptic and conspicuous coloration in the pelagic environment.
Despite the importance of cryptic and conspicuous coloration in pelagic ecosystems, few researchers have investigated the optimal reflectance spectra for either trait. In this study, the underwater radiance distribution in tropical oceanic water was modelled using measured inherent optical properties and radiative transfer calculations. The modelled light field was then used to predict the reflectance spectra that resulted in minimal or maximal object contrast as a function of depth, viewing angle, azimuth and solar elevation. The results matched commonly observed trends in the coloration of many pelagic organisms and showed that optimal coloration for either crypticity or conspicuity is a complex function of the parameters examined. The effects of viewing angle and depth were substantial and non-intuitive, showing that red coloration is most cryptic at depth. The effects of viewing azimuth were less significant and the effects of solar elevation were minor. White coloration and black coloration were equally cryptic/conspicuous when viewed from below. Although conspicuous objects viewed from below had the lowest contrast when viewed from a short distance, they had the longest sighting distances. The contrast of maximally conspicuous objects viewed from short distances was greatest at wavelengths displaced from the wavelength of maximum light penetration.
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