Polymorphic Color Vision in Primates: Evolutionary Considerations

  • Shoji KawamuraEmail author
  • Chihiro Hiramatsu
  • Amanda D. Melin
  • Colleen M. Schaffner
  • Filippo Aureli
  • Linda M. Fedigan
Part of the Primatology Monographs book series (PrimMono)


Color provides a reliable cue for object detection and identification during various behaviors such as foraging, mate choice, predator avoidance, and navigation. The total number of colors that a visual system can discriminate is largely dependent on the number of different spectral types of cone opsins present in the retina and the spectral separations among them. Thus, opsins provide an excellent model system to study evolutionary interconnections at genetic, phenotypic, and behavioral levels. Primates have evolved a unique ability for three-dimensional color vision (trichromacy) from the two-dimensional color vision (dichromacy) present in the majority of other mammals. This development was accomplished via allelic differentiation (e.g., most New World monkeys) or gene duplication (e.g., Old World primates) of the middle to long wavelength-sensitive (M/LWS, or red–green) opsin gene. However, questions remain regarding the behavioral adaptations of primate trichromacy. Allelic differentiation of the M/LWS opsins results in extensive color vision variability in New World monkeys, where trichromats and dichromats are found in the same breeding population, enabling us to directly compare visual performances among different color vision phenotypes. Thus, New World monkeys can serve as an excellent model to understand and evaluate the adaptive significance of primate trichromacy in a behavioral context. In this chapter, we summarize recent findings on color vision evolution in primates and other vertebrates and introduce our genetic and behavioral study of vision–behavior interrelationships in free-ranging sympatric capuchin and spider monkey populations in Costa Rica.


Color Vision World Monkey Spider Monkey Capuchin Monkey Howler Monkey 
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.



Wavelength of maximal absorbance


Complementary DNA




Locus control region


Middle to long wavelength-sensitive




Polymerase chain reaction






Short wavelength-sensitive type 1


Short wavelength-sensitive type 2



We thank R. Blanco Segura, M.M. Chavarria, and other staff of the Área de Conservación Guanacaste for local support, and we are grateful to the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía (MINAE) of Costa Rica for giving us permission to conduct our field study in Santa Rosa. We appreciate the help of E. Murillo Chacon, C. Sendall, K.M. Jack, S. Carnegie, L. Rebecchini, A.H. Korstjens, G. McCabe, and H. Young with collection of fecal samples and behavioral data and assistance in the field. Our field study was supported by Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research A 19207018 and 22247036 from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) and Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research on Priority Areas “Comparative Genomics” 20017008 and “Cellular Sensor” 21026007 from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan to S.K.; a Grant-in-Aid for JSPS Fellows (15-11926) to C.H.; postgraduate scholarships and grants from the Alberta Ingenuity Fund, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Leakey Foundation, and the Animal Behavior Society to A.D.M.; the Canada Research Chairs Program and a Discovery Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to L.M.F.; the Leakey Foundation and the North of England Zoological Society to F.A.; and the British Academy and the University of Chester small grants scheme to C.M.S.


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© Springer 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shoji Kawamura
    • 1
    Email author
  • Chihiro Hiramatsu
    • 1
    • 2
  • Amanda D. Melin
    • 3
    • 4
  • Colleen M. Schaffner
    • 5
    • 6
  • Filippo Aureli
    • 6
    • 7
  • Linda M. Fedigan
    • 8
  1. 1.Department of Integrated Biosciences, Graduate School of Frontier SciencesThe University of TokyoKashiwaJapan
  2. 2.Department of Psychology, Graduate School of LettersKyoto UniversityKyotoJapan
  3. 3.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada
  4. 4.Department of AnthropologyDartmouth CollegeHanoverUSA
  5. 5.Psychology DepartmentUniversity of ChesterChesterUK
  6. 6.Instituto de NeuroetologiaUniversidad VeracruzanaXalapaMexico
  7. 7.Research Centre in Evolutionary Anthropology and PalaeoecologyLiverpool John Moores UniversityLiverpoolUK
  8. 8.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

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