Scaling of visual acuity with body size in mammals and birds



1.  Kirschfeld (1976) suggested that visual acuity is directly proportional to body length across a wide range of animal species. A survey of eye size, visual acuity and body size of birds and mammals that is consistent with Kirschfeld's suggestion is reported. Hypoallometry (scaling factor < 1) for eye size vs body size combines with hyperallometry (scaling factor > 1) for acuity vs eye size to produce roughly linear scaling between acuity and body size.

2.  Kirschfeld (1976) also suggested that the distance at which important objects are typically viewed is a linear function of body length. ‘Subjective distance’ (viewing distance/body length) was therefore thought to be independent of body size across species. However, for prey detection by mammalian and avian predators, it is doubtful that subjective visual distances are size independent because prey size and visual acuity both scale by factors > 0·5 with predator body size; hence, detection distance should scale with size by a factor > 1. Scaling analyses also suggest that subjective visual distances for intraspecific social interactions are size dependent.

3. A positive association between body size and viewing distance has implications for the scaling of coat pattern features. In environments with fractal visual backgrounds (in which perceived sizes of background pattern elements do not change as distance from the background changes), larger animal species should have larger coat patches than smaller species if they are adapted to be cryptic at greater viewing distances than smaller species are.