Eye Morphology in Cathemeral Lemurids and Other MammalsKirk E.C.
University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Tex., USA
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The visual systems of cathemeral mammals are subject to selection pressures that are not encountered by strictly diurnal or nocturnal species. In particular, the cathemeral eye and retina must be able to function effectively across a broad range of ambient light intensities. This paper provides a review of the current state of knowledge regarding the visual anatomy of cathemeral primates, and presents an analysis of the influence of cathemerality on eye morphology in the genus Eulemur. Due to the mutual antagonism between most adaptations for increased visual acuity and sensitivity, cathemeral lemurs are expected to resemble other cathemeral mammals in having eye morphologies that are intermediate between those of diurnal and nocturnal close relatives. However, if lemurs only recently adopted cathemeral activity patterns, then cathemeral lemurids would be expected to demonstrate eye morphologies more comparable to those of nocturnal strepsirrhines. Both predictions were tested through a comparative study of relative cornea size in mammals. Intact eyes were collected from 147 specimens of 55 primate species, and relative corneal dimensions were compared to measurements taken from a large sample of non-primate mammals. These data reveal that the five extant species of the cathemeral genus Eulemur have relative cornea sizes intermediate between those of diurnal and nocturnal strepsirrhines. Moreover, all Eulemur species have relative cornea sizes that are comparable to those of cathemeral non-primate mammals and significantly smaller than those of nocturnal mammals. These results suggest that Eulemur species resemble other cathemeral mammals in having eyes that are adapted to function under variable environmental light levels. These results also suggest that cathemerality is a relatively ancient adaptation in Eulemur that was present in the last common ancestor of the genus (ca. 8–12 MYA).
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