Metabolic rate and body size are linked with perception of temporal information

Kevin Healy, Luke McNally, Graeme D Ruxton, Natalie Cooper, Andrew L Jackson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Citations (Scopus)
1 Downloads (Pure)


Body size and metabolic rate both fundamentally constrain how species interact with their environment, and hence ultimately affect their niche. While many mechanisms leading to these constraints have been explored, their effects on the resolution at which temporal information is perceived have been largely overlooked. The visual system acts as a gateway to the dynamic environment and the relative resolution at which organisms are able to acquire and process visual information is likely to restrict their ability to interact with events around them. As both smaller size and higher metabolic rates should facilitate rapid behavioural responses, we hypothesized that these traits would favour perception of temporal change over finer timescales. Using critical flicker fusion frequency, the lowest frequency of flashing at which a flickering light source is perceived as constant, as a measure of the maximum rate of temporal information processing in the visual system, we carried out a phylogenetic comparative analysis of a wide range of vertebrates that supported this hypothesis. Our results have implications for the evolution of signalling systems and predator-prey interactions, and, combined with the strong influence that both body mass and metabolism have on a species' ecological niche, suggest that time perception may constitute an important and overlooked dimension of niche differentiation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)685-696
Number of pages12
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number4
Early online date15 Aug 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2013


  • Comparative analysis
  • Critical flicker fusion
  • Evolutionary ecology
  • Predator-prey
  • Temporal resolution


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