Ecological factors are likely drivers of eye shape and colour pattern variations across anthropoid primates

Juan Olvido Perea-García*, Kokulanantha Ramarajan, Mariska E. Kret, Catherine Hobaiter, Antónia Monteiro

*Corresponding author for this work

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External eye appearance across primate species is diverse in shape and colouration, yet we still lack an explanation for the drivers of such diversity. Here we quantify substantial interspecific variation in eye shape and colouration across 77 primate species representing all extant genera of anthropoid primates. We reassess a series of hypotheses aiming to explain ocular variation in horizontal elongation and in colouration across species. Heavier body weight and terrestrial locomotion are associated with elongated eye outlines. Species living closer to the equator present more pigmented conjunctivae, suggesting photoprotective functions. Irises become bluer in species living further away from the equator, adding to existing literature supporting a circadian clock function for bluer irises. These results shift the current focus from communicative, to ecological factors in driving variation in external eye appearance in anthropoid primates. They also highlight the possibility that similar ecological factors contributed to selection for blue eyes in ancestral human populations living in northern latitudes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number17240
Number of pages9
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2022


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