I am a life science researcher, interested in invertebrate vision, scientific data analysis and scientific communication. I carried out my doctoral research on spatial vision in simple visual systems at Lund University, Sweden. I am a postdoc at Arquimea Research Centre, La Laguna, Spain. Find my CV here.
PhD in Biology (Vision Science), 2018
Research M.Sc. in Biology, 2010
University College Dublin
B.Sc. Hons, 2008
University College Dublin
Sea urchins can detect light and move in relation to luminous stimuli despite lacking eyes. They presumably detect light through photoreceptor cells distributed on their body surface. However, there is currently no mechanistic explanation of how these animals can process light to detect visual stimuli and produce oriented movement. Here, we present a model of decentralized vision in echinoderms that includes all known processing stages, from photoreceptor cells to radial nerve neurons to neurons contained in the oral nerve ring encircling the mouth of the animals. In the model, light stimuli captured by photoreceptor cells produce neural activity in the radial nerve neurons. In turn, neural activity in the radial nerves is integrated in the oral nerve ring to produce a profile of neural activity reaching spatially across several ambulacra. This neural activity is readout to produce a model of movement. The model captures previously published data on the behavior of sea urchin Diadema africanum probed with a variety of physical stimuli. The specific pattern of neural connections used in the model makes testable predictions on the properties of single neurons and aggregate neural behavior in Diadema africanum and other echinoderms, offering a potential understanding of the mechanism of visual orientation in these animals.
Spatial vision was recently reported in a brittle star, Ophiomastix wendtii, which lacks discrete eyes, but little is known about its visual ecology. Our aim was to better characterize the vision and visual ecology of this unusual visual system. We tested animals’ orientation relative to vertical bar stimuli at a range of angular widths and contrast, to identify limits of angular and contrast detection. We also presented dynamic shadow stimuli, either looming towards or passing overhead the animal, to test for potential defensive responses. Finally, we presented animals lacking a single arm with a vertical bar stimulus known to elicit a response in intact animals. We found that O. wendtii orients to large ($≥$50° ), high-contrast vertical bar stimuli, consistent with a shelter-seeking role and with photoreceptor acceptance angles estimated from morphology. We calculate poor optical sensitivity for individual photoreceptors, and predict dramatic oversampling for photoreceptor arrays. We also report responses to dark stimuli moving against a bright background - this is the first report of responses to moving stimuli in brittle stars and suggests additional defensive uses for vision in echinoderms. Finally, we found that animals missing a single arm orient worse to static stimuli, which requires further investigation.
How well can a bird discriminate between two red berries on a green background? The absolute threshold of colour discrimination is set by photoreceptor noise, but animals do not perform at this threshold; their performance can depend on additional factors. In humans and zebra finches, discrimination thresholds for colour stimuli depend on background colour, and thus the adaptive state of the visual system. We have tested how well chickens can discriminate shades of orange or green presented on orange or green backgrounds. Chickens discriminated slightly smaller colour differences between two stimuli presented on a similarly coloured background, compared with a background of very different colour. The slope of the psychometric function was steeper when stimulus and background colours were similar but shallower when they differed markedly, indicating that background colour affects the certainty with which the animals discriminate the colours. The effect we find for chickens is smaller than that shown for zebra finches. We modelled the response to stimuli using Bayesian and maximum likelihood estimation and implemented the psychometric function to estimate the effect size. We found that the result is independent of the psychophysical method used to evaluate the effect of experimental conditions on choice performance.