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Keywords:

  • trichromatic advantage;
  • visual polymorphism;
  • color vision modeling;
  • behavioral approach;
  • trichromatism

The complex evolution of primate color vision has puzzled biologists for decades. Primates are the only eutherian mammals that evolved an enhanced capacity for discriminating colors in the green–red part of the spectrum (trichromatism). However, while Old World primates present three types of cone pigments and are routinely trichromatic, most New World primates exhibit a color vision polymorphism, characterized by the occurrence of trichromatic and dichromatic females and obligatory dichromatic males. Even though this has stimulated a prolific line of inquiry, the selective forces and relative benefits influencing color vision evolution in primates are still under debate, with current explanations focusing almost exclusively at the advantages in finding food and detecting socio-sexual signals. Here, we evaluate a previously untested possibility, the adaptive value of primate color vision for predator detection. By combining color vision modeling data on New World and Old World primates, as well as behavioral information from human subjects, we demonstrate that primates exhibiting better color discrimination (trichromats) excel those displaying poorer color visions (dichromats) at detecting carnivoran predators against the green foliage background. The distribution of color vision found in extant anthropoid primates agrees with our results, and may be explained by the advantages of trichromats and dichromats in detecting predators and insects, respectively. Am. J. Primatol. 76:721–729, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.