Document Type


Publication Title

BMC Ecology


For many fish species, retinal function changes between life history stages as part of an encoded developmental program. Retinal change is also known to exhibit plasticity because retinal form and function can be influenced by light exposure over the course of development. Aside from studies of gene expression, it remains largely unknown whether retinal plasticity can provide functional responses to short-term changes in environmental light quality. The aim of this study was to determine whether the structure and function of the fish retina can change in response to altered light intensity and spectrum—not over the course of a developmental regime, but over shorter time periods relevant to marine habitat disturbance. Results: The effects of light environment on sensitivity of the retina, as well as on cone photoreceptor distribution were examined in the Atlantic tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) on 2- and 4-month timescales. In a spectral experiment, juvenile M. atlanticus were placed in either ‘red’ or ‘blue’ light conditions (with near identical irradiance), and in an intensity experiment, juveniles were placed in either ‘bright’ or ‘dim’ light conditions (with near identical spectra). Analysis of the retina by electroretinography and anti-opsin immunofluorescence revealed that relative to fish held in the blue condition, those in the red condition exhibited longer-wavelength peak sensitivity and greater abundance of long-wavelength-sensitive (LWS) cone photoreceptors over time. Following pre-test dark adaption of the retina, fish held in the dim light required less irradiance to produce a standard retinal response than fish held in bright light, developing a greater sensitivity to white light over time. Conclusions: The results show that structure and function of the M. atlanticus retina can rapidly adjust to changes in environmental light within a given developmental stage, and that such changes are dependent on light quality and the length of exposure. These findings suggest that the fish retina may be resilient to disturbances in environmental light, using retinal plasticity to compensate for changes in light quality over short timescales.



Publication Date