The distinct behaviors and varied habitats where animals live place different requirements on their visual systems. A trade-off exists between resolution and sensitivity, with these properties varying across the retina. Spectral sensitivity, which affects both achromatic and chromatic (colour) vision, also varies across the retina, though the function of this inhomogeneity is less clear. We previously demonstrated spatially varying spectral sensitivity of double cones in the cichlid fish Metriaclima zebra due to coexpression of different opsins. Here, we map the distributions of ganglion cells and cone cells and quantify opsin coexpression in single cones to show these also vary across the retina. We identify an area centralis with peak acuity and infrequent coexpression, which may be suited for tasks such as foraging and detecting male signals. The peripheral retina has reduced ganglion cell densities and increased opsin coexpression. Modeling of cichlid visual tasks indicates that coexpression might hinder colour discrimination of foraging targets and some fish colours. But, coexpression might improve contrast detection of dark objects against bright backgrounds, which might be useful for detecting predators or zooplankton. This suggests a trade off between acuity and colour discrimination in the central retina versus lower resolution but more sensitive contrast detection in the peripheral retina. Significant variation in the pattern of coexpression among individuals, however, raises interesting questions about the selective forces at work.
- Received September 9, 2016.
- Accepted October 25, 2016.
- © 2016. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd