Natural Polarized Light and Vision

  • Talbot H. Waterman
Part of the NATO ASI Series book series (NSSA, volume 74)


Partial linear polarization is a prominent attribute of both scattered and reflected light in nature. Consequently sunlight in the atmosphere and hydrosphere produces substantial polarization patterns in which e-vector directions and (to a more variable extent) degree of polarization are reasonably well predicted by primary Rayleigh scattering. Despite its negligible relevance for normal human vision many organisms have been shown, following von Frisch’s pioneer work, to have polarization sensitivity at various levels ranging from dichroism of visual and accessory pigments, to photoreceptor cells, to visual interneurons and ultimately oriented behavior.

By definition polarization sensitivity is the capacity of any biological element to respond differentially to either e-vector direction or degree of polarization of a light stimulus. While this capability shows interesting analogies with spectral sensitivity, the extent to which polarization vision, if indeed it has its own quality, is parallel to color vision remains to be experimentally demonstrated.

Analyzing progress mainly evident in research published during the past two to three years, the present review reports on significant new research in four areas: 1. Measurements of sky polarization in relation to animal vision. 2. Specialization of receptor mechanisms for polarization sensitivity particularly at the retinal and retinular levels. Among other things, work with genetic mutants is beginning to influence this area as it has many others. 3. Information processing (mostly relevant to e-vector direction) remains largely speculative except for some interneuron recordings in crustaceans. 4. Field and laboratory behavioral experiments mainly on bees and ants, but to some extent on flies, continue to define the adaptive applications which animals have evolved for polarization sensitivity.


Visual Pigment Sensory Physiology Skylight Polarization Pattern Dance Direction Photostable Pigment 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Talbot H. Waterman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyYale UniversityNew HavenUSA

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