Testing the bounds of colour vision
A new preprint from Cheney et al. details a modified Ishihara-style behavioural test for colour vision, with a great demonstration in Triggerfish. The granular control the method offers over spectral and spatial noise gives it broader utility for questions of ecology and evolution too, and I look forward to seeing it trialed among inverts (and hope to give it a run myself).
Colour vision mediates ecologically relevant tasks for many animals, such as mate choice, foraging and predator avoidance. However, our understanding of animal colour perception is largely derived from human psychophysics, even though animal visual systems differ from our own. Behavioural tests of non-human animals are required to understand how colour signals are perceived by them. Here we introduce a novel test of colour vision in animals inspired by the Ishihara colour charts, which are widely used to identify human colour deficiencies. These charts consist of dots that vary in colour, brightness and size, and are designed so that a numeral or letter is distinguishable from distractor dots for humans with normal colour vision. In our method, distractor dots have a fixed chromaticity (hue and saturation) but vary in luminance. Animals can be trained to find single target dots that differ from distractor dots in chromaticity. We provide Matlab code for creating these stimuli, which can be modified for use with different animals. We demonstrate the success of this method with triggerfish, Rhinecanthus aculeatus, and highlight behavioural parameters that can be measured, including success of finding the target dot, time to detect dot and error rate. Triggerfish quickly learnt to select target dots that differed from distractors dots regardless of the particular hue or saturation, and proved to use acute colour vision. We measured discrimination thresholds by testing the detection of target colours that were of increasing colour distances (ΔS) from distractor dots in different directions of colour space. At least for some colours, thresholds indicated better discrimination than expected from the Receptor Noise Limited (RNL) model assuming 5% Weber fraction for the long-wavelength cone. This methodology seems to be highly effective because it resembles natural foraging behavior for the triggerfish and may well be adaptable to a range of other animals, including mammals, birds, bees and freshwater fish. Other questions may be addressed using this methodology, including luminance thresholds, sensory bias, effects of sensory noise in detection tasks, colour categorization and saliency.