Flight Distance and Eye Size in Birds


Anders P. Møller, Laboratoire d’Ecologie, Systématique et Evolution, CNRS UMR 8079, Université Paris-Sud, Bâtiment 362, F-91405 Orsay Cedex, France.
E-mail: anders.moller@u-psud.fr


Larger eyes capture more information from the environment than small eyes, but also require more brain space for information processing. Therefore, individuals have to optimize the size of their eyes, leading to the prediction that larger eyes should have evolved in species with greater benefits from large eyes, such as species subject to intense predation risk. In a comparative analysis of 97 bird species, we found that species that fled at longer distances from an approaching potential predator indeed had relatively large eyes for their body size. In contrast, there was no indication that large eyes had evolved in species living in secluded habitats, or in species eating mobile prey. These findings are consistent with the assumption that eye size is labile and can evolve in response to changing predator environments. They also suggest that eye size may act as a constraint on optimal anti-predator behavior, if the predator community changes as a consequence of introductions or invasions.