All three extant genera of lungfi sh, Australian, African and South American, appear to possess unremarkable, even ‘degenerate eyes’ when viewed externally. Th e eyes of the Australian lungfi sh, Neoceratodus forsteri, are slightly larger than those of the other species (seven African species in the genus Protopterus and the single South American species Lepidosiren paradoxa). N. forsteri seems to be the most visually-oriented of the extant lungfi shes. All three genera of lungfi sh, however, possess remarkable and beautiful retinal adaptations, including, coloured oil droplets, multiple cone spectral sensitivities and large photoreceptor inner segments, making them more closely aligned in design to modern amphibians and other terrestrial animals, than to teleosts. Th e tetrapod-like retinal features of N. forsteri provide the capability for tetrachromatic colour vision and add to the debate on the phylogenetic origin(s) of lungfi sh. Th ey also suggest that the complex colour vision system of vertebrates on land, exemplifi ed by birds, may have fi rst evolved in the aquatic environment or at least close to the time when aquatic life emerged onto land. Other ocular adaptations in dipnoans include a non-spherical lens, the anatomical mechanism for accommodation, a mobile pupil and giant retinal cells. Th is eye design suggests a need to increase light fl ux, rather than for a reliance on high spatial acuity, a conclusion supported by the relatively low ganglion cell densities. Future work should certainly aim at a better understanding of the visual biology, behaviour and ecology of all lungfi sh, especially in light of their disappearing habitat worldwide. Both African and South American species also need a full description of their visual system

before they are properly consigned to being ‘less well developed’, than N. forsteri. Keywords: Vision, colour, visual ecology, colour signals, neurobiology

An ability to breathe air, the possession of lobe-fi ns, and an evolutionary position possibly closer to amphibians than to fi sh, places the lungfi shes (Dipnoi) in an iconic position within the Osteichthyes. Several aspects of eye design in lungfi shes suggest that they possess a visual system much more like that of a land dwelling vertebrate such as a bird, reptile or amphibian. Th e potential for complex tetrachromatic colour vision, spectral coverage from the UV to deep in the red region of the spectrum and coloured fi lters to tune the light incident on the retina has recently been realised (Robinson 1994; Bailes et al. 2006a). Although Bailes and colleagues have provided a recent and thorough examination of the visual system of the Australian lungfi sh, Neoceratodus forsteri, components of this surprisingly un-fi sh-like visual system have been known for more than a century (Krefft 1870; Gunther 1871; Schieff erdecker 1886; Kerr 1902; Grynfeltt 1911; Walls 1942). Robinson (1994) revived interest in lungfi sh vision by a more complete description of the most surprising aspect of their vision, the coloured oil droplets and ellipsoids housed within the photoreceptors, and by suggesting the potential for tetrachromatic colour vision in N. forsteri. Th ese sorts of coloured fi lters, while present in the eyes of many land vertebrates, are rare among fi sh (Walls 1942; Douglas and Marshall 1999), although the coelacanth Latimeria chalumnae, a close relative of the lungfi sh, is one example where a large oil droplet is associated with one of its three large single cones (Locket 1973). A gaping hole in our understanding, that will unfortunately permeate this chapter, is the lack of work on the visual systems of the African and South American species of lungfi shes. In general, due to their small eye size (Fig. 1) and comparatively reduced complexity in a number of ocular features, these species are thought to be less ‘visual’ than the Australian lungfi sh. It is, however, possible that this is an expression of our ignorance rather than a refl ection of the real situation. Wherever possible in this chapter we refer to known work on Lepidosiren paradoxa and Protopterus species, but the majority of what is summarised here concerns N. forsteri. Retinal morphology and the optics of the eyes of N. forsteri, along with visual ecology and some scant observations on visual behaviour, indicate that this visual system is designed for increased sensitivity rather than for high acuity. Th is conclusion is supported by the fi ndings of very large or “monstrous” photoreceptors described by Walls (1942), a general feature shared by all species of lungfi shes. Conversely, the relatively small eyes, in particular those of the Lepidosirenidae (this includes both African and South American species) suggest that sensitivity per se is not of importance to the sensory biology of the lungfi shes and that other

factors such as the presence of dense coloured oil droplets in their inner segments may have driven the apparent need for sensitive photoreceptors (Partridge 1989). Several aspects of lungfi sh vision add to the debate on the relationship of lungfi sh to teleost fi sh and urodele amphibians (Robinson 1994; Carroll 1988, 1997; Joss 1998; Pough et al. 1999; Takezaki et al. 2004; Bailes et al. 2006a, 2007a,b). While this is the subject of another chapter (Chapter 20), it is worth noting in passing here the striking resemblance between what we think of as an advanced terrestrial vertebrate colour vision system and that of the lungfi sh visual system (Bailes 2006; Bailes et al. 2006a; Hart et al. 2008). Molecular analysis of the visual pigments or opsin genes also places lungfi shes closer to the amphibians than teleost fi shes (Bailes et al. 2007b). Th e complexity of the lungfi sh colour vision system contributes to the discussion on the evolution of colour vision in vertebrates (Tresize and Collin 2005; Lamb et al. 2007), suggesting that the capacity for colour discrimination fi rst evolved

in water and was retained aft er emerging onto land, although specifi c classes of photoreceptors have subsequently been lost. Th e suggestion of neoteny in lungfi sh (Joss 1998) could also point towards the retention of visual characteristics evolved on land in a now largely aquatic animal. Prior to the recent work of Bailes and colleagues, fewer than ten publications existed on lungfi sh eyes. Gunther (1871), Schieff erdecker (1886), Kerr (1902) and Grynfeltt (1911) provided early anatomical descriptions. Walls (1942) reviewed this early work and went on to provide what is still considered the best source of comparative morphological study on the eyes of the extant species. More recently, Munk (1969), Locket (1970), Ali and Anctil (1973, 1976), Pow (1994) and Robinson (1994) have contributed morphological studies, largely based on individual species. A common theme of these investigations is that the retina and choroid in all species described are considered thin, while the cells of all retinal layers are very large. Walls (1942) implies that the eyes of the L. paradoxa and Protopterus sp. are degenerate, at least when compared to N. forsteri, while Ali and Anctil (1976) rank them according to complexity in the ascending order South American, African and Australian species. Walls (1942) states: “Th e dearth of knowledge about Lepidosiren is of no great importance, since this form is in the same family as Protopterus. But Neoceratodus deserves a thorough investigation, for this large fi sh has none of the appearances of degeneracy characteristic of the Lepidosirenidae. Its relatively large eye may have, in particular, a mechanism of accommodation: and its cone oil droplets may be coloured in life. But the animal is reputedly nocturnal (in captivity, at least), and may not have retained such things even though some diurnal ancestor may have had them.”