Polarisation vision: overcoming challenges of working with a property of light we barely see

James J. Foster, Shelby E. Temple, Martin J. How, Ilse M. Daly, Camilla R. Sharkey, David Wilby, Nicholas W. Roberts

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


In recent years, the study of polarisation vision in animals has seen numerous breakthroughs, not just in terms of what is known about the function of this sensory ability, but also in the experimental methods by which polarisation can be controlled, presented and measured. Once thought to be limited to only a few animal species, polarisation sensitivity is now known to be widespread across many taxonomic groups, and advances in experimental techniques are, in part, responsible for these discoveries. Nevertheless, its study remains challenging, perhaps because of our own poor sensitivity to the polarisation of light, but equally as a result of the slow spread of new practices and methodological innovations within the field. In this review, we introduce the most important steps in designing and calibrating polarised stimuli, within the broader context of areas of current research and the applications of new techniques to key questions. Our aim is to provide a constructive guide to help researchers, particularly those with no background in the physics of polarisation, to design robust experiments that are free from confounding factors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number27
JournalDie Naturwissenschaften
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank Almut Kelber, Keram Pfeiffer, Rochelle Meah, John Christy, Mindaugas Mitkus, Anna Stöckl and Marie Dacke for their valuable critiques and discussions during the development of this manuscript. We also thank Finlay Stewart for providing a detailed description of his method for projecting polarisation.

Funding Information:
Funding JJF was supported by Carl Trygger’s Foundation for Scientific Research (CTS 14:95 and CTS 15:108) and a Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation grant (BUltimate Vision^) awarded to Marie Dacke. MJH is supported by the Royal Society (UF140558). DW is supported by a research programme grant from the Leverhulme Trust (RPG-2014-363 to NWR). NWR and the University of Bristol Ecology of Vision laboratory are supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (FA8655-12-1-2112) and the Air Force Research Labs (FA9550-09-1-0149). NWR has also been supported by the Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council (BB/G022917/1 and BB/H01635X/1) and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EP/ E501214/1).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, The Author(s).


  • Artefact
  • Imaging
  • Measurement
  • Methods
  • Polarisation
  • Vision


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