Reindeer and the quest for Scottish enlichenment

Nathaniel J. Dominy*, Catherine Hobaiter, Julie M. Harris

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

In the hall of animal oddities, the reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) is the only mammal with a color-shifting tapetum lucidum and the only ruminant with a lichen-dominated diet. These puzzling traits coexist with yet another enigma––ocular media that transmit up to 60% of ultraviolet (UV) light, enough to excite the cones responsible for color vision. It is unclear why any day-active circum-Arctic mammal would benefit from UV visual sensitivity, but it could improve detection of UV-absorbing lichens against a background of UV-reflecting snows, especially during the extended twilight hours of winter. To explore this idea and advance our understanding of reindeer visual ecology, we recorded the reflectance spectra of several ground-growing (terricolous), shrubby (fruticose) lichens in the diets of reindeer living in Cairngorms National Park, Scotland.

Original languageEnglish
Journali-Perception
Volume14
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2023

Keywords

  • Color
  • Light
  • Sensory plasticity/adaptation
  • Visual search

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