Retinal specializations in the eyes of deep-sea teleosts


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Although living beyond the penetration limits of sunlight, many deep-sea teleosts possess large eyes, lenses capable of accommodation, and various adaptations for increasing sensitivity and extending their visual field. However, little is known of the extent of the visual field and whether the spatial resolving power of the eye is constant across the retina. In order to examine whether these fish are specialized for acute vision in particular regions of their visual field, retinal wholemounts were used to examine the regional differences in the density of retinal ganglion cells in 16 species from different depths, habitats and photic zones. It was found that the retinal ganglion cell topography changes markedly across the retina with a density range of 6.3–50.6 × 103 cells mm−2 in a pattern unique to each species. A number of mesopelagic species including the lanternfishes, Lampanyctus macdonaldi and Myctophum punctatum possess a concentric increase in cell density towards the retinal margins, putatively enhancing peripheral vision. Three tubular-eyed species including Scopelarchus michaelsarsi possess an area centralis in the centro-lateral region of the main retina supporting the premise that this specialization receives a focused image. Some benthic species such as the smoothhead Rouleina attrita and the searsid Searsia koefoedi also boast a structural specialization or fovea in temporal retina with centro-peripheral cell gradients exceeding 30 : 1. Benthic species such as the tripodfish Bathypterois dubius possess two regional increases in ganglion cell density or areae centrales, one nasal and the other temporal, thereby increasing spatial resolving power in the caudal and rostral visual fields, respectively. These quantitative analyses suggest that deep-sea fishes, like their shallow-water counterparts, also use a specific region of their visual field for acute vision. This may be an advantage for the detection and localization of bioluminescent light sources.