Daniel Escobar-Camacho, Michaela A. Taylor, Karen L. Cheney, Naomi F. Green, N. Justin Marshall, and Karen L. Carleton
Color vision is essential for animals as it allows them to detect, recognize and discriminate between colored objects. Studies analyzing color vision require an integrative approach, combining behavioral experiments, physiological models and quantitative analyses of photoreceptor stimulation. Here, we demonstrate, for the first time, the limits of chromatic discrimination in Metriaclima benetos, a rock-dwelling cichlid from Lake Malawi, using behavioral experiments and visual modeling. Fish were trained to discriminate between colored stimuli. Color discrimination thresholds were quantified by testing fish chromatic discrimination between the rewarded stimulus and distracter stimuli that varied in chromatic distance (S). This was done under fluorescent lights alone and with additional violet lights. Our results provide two main outcomes. First, cichlid color discrimination thresholds correspond with predictions from the receptor noise limited (RNL) model but only if we assume a Weber fraction higher than the typical value of 5%. Second, cichlids may exhibit limited color constancy under certain lighting conditions as most individuals failed to discriminate colors when violet light was added. We further used the color discrimination thresholds obtained from these experiments to model color discrimination of actual fish colors and backgrounds under natural lighting for Lake Malawi. We found that, for M. benetos, blue is most chromatically contrasting against yellows and space-light, which might be important for discriminating male nuptial colorations and detecting males against the background. This study highlights the importance of lab-based behavioral experiments in understanding color vision and in parameterizing the assumptions of the RNL vision model for different species.