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Keywords:

  • eye size;
  • visual acuity;
  • Leuckart's law;
  • locomotion;
  • cursoriality;
  • mammalia

Abstract

Vertebrate eye size is influenced by many factors, including body or head size, diet, and activity pattern. Locomotor speed has also been suggested to influence eye size in a relationship known as Leuckart's Law. Leuckart's Law proposes that animals capable of achieving fast locomotor speeds require large eyes to enhance visual acuity and avoid collisions with environmental obstacles. The selective influence of rapid flight has been invoked to explain the relatively large eyes of birds, but Leuckart's Law remains untested in nonavian vertebrates. This study investigates the relationship between eye size and maximum running speed in a diverse sample of mammals. Measures of axial eye diameter, maximum running speed, and body mass were collected from the published literature for 50 species from 10 mammalian orders. This analysis reveals that absolute eye size is significantly positively correlated with maximum running speed in mammals. Moreover, the relationship between eye size and running speed remains significant when the potentially confounding effects of body mass and phylogeny are statistically controlled. The results of this analysis are therefore consistent with the expectations of Leuckart's Law and demonstrate that faster-moving mammals have larger eyes than their slower-moving close relatives. Accordingly, we conclude that maximum running speed is one of several key selective factors that have influenced the evolution of eye size in mammals. Anat Rec, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.