Comparative morphology of the eye in primates


  • E. Christopher Kirk

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    1. Department of Anthropology, University of Texas, Austin, Texas
    • Department of Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station C3200, Austin, TX 78712
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Comparative studies of mammalian eye morphology have shown that relative cornea size is an important correlate of visual ecology. Nocturnal species tend to have large corneas relative to eye size as an adaptation for increasing visual sensitivity. By contrast, diurnal species tend to have smaller corneas relative to eye size because their eye morphology maximizes visual acuity. Although qualitative analyses suggest that activity pattern may have a similar influence on eye morphology in primates, various current hypotheses have proposed that either diurnal anthropoids or diurnal lemurs have visual systems that diverge from those of other diurnal mammals. The goal of this analysis is to quantify the relationship between eye morphology and activity pattern in primates and to determine whether primates exhibit variation in eye morphology comparable to that of other mammals. Data on eye size and cornea size were collected for 147 specimens of 55 primate species. These data reveal that, within primate suborders, diurnal species have significantly smaller relative cornea sizes than nocturnal or cathemeral species. Both haplorhines and strepsirrhines thus exhibit variation in eye morphology that is consistent with functional expectations. However, comparisons between the two primate suborders demonstrate that haplorhines and strepsirrhines differ significantly in eye morphology. Whereas strepsirrhines have relative cornea sizes that are similar to nonprimate mammals of comparable activity pattern, diurnal anthropoids have smaller relative cornea sizes than most nonprimate mammals. This derived eye morphology in anthropoids probably evolved in the anthropoid stem lineage as a result of selection for highly acute diurnal vision. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.