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How Does A Fish See In The Water World?

First Posted: Jan 07, 2016 02:06 PM EST

A new study is shedding light on how fish "see" and is enabling researchers to understand the visual systems of these sea dwellers. Researchers from the University of Queensland and the University of Maryland studied the different types of opsins in fishes' eyes and increased their knowledge of the Great Barrier Reef's biodiversity.

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world's most visually diverse environments, which involves light availability along with various colors and patterned animals, which have their habitats in the reef.

"We studied the visual systems of the labrids, a large family of fish that includes wrasses - which are mainly predatory and parrotfish, which tend to eat coral and algae," Genevieve Phillips, coauthor of the study, said in a news release. "Many animals have visual systems that are tuned to the specific wavelengths of light that available in their environment, so fish that live in rivers 'see' differently from fish living at the bottom of the ocean."

Opsins are known as the light-sensitive proteins in the photoreceptors that absorb light at specific wavelengths. The "absorption" was one of the first steps in understanding the process of "seeing" an image, according to Phillips. Researchers can be able to determine the colors that an animal could eventually see by studying the various types and quantities of opsins in its eyes.

"In general, most of the opsins found in the fishes' eyes were sensitive to the green-blue region of the spectrum, which is typical of many reef fish, as it is the dominant light available to fish on coral reefs," Phillips said. "However, some of the labrids appeared to have specialized in opsins sensitive to orange-red light."

Phillips claimed that this can enable fish to find prey against a predominantly red-brown background.

"The more we understand about what fish can see, and how this relates to their behavior, the more we will understand about biodiversity on the Great Barrier Reef," Phillips said.

The findings of this study were published in Molecular Biology and Evolution.

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