Retinal ganglion cell topography and spatial resolving power in African megachiropterans: Influence of roosting microhabitat and foraging

João Paulo Coimbra, John D. Pettigrew, Consolate Kaswera-Kyamakya, Emmanuel Gilissen, Shaun P. Collin, Paul R. Manger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Megachiropteran bats (megabats) show remarkable diversity in microhabitat occupation and trophic specializations, but information on how vision relates to their behavioral ecology is scarce. Using stereology and retinal wholemounts, we measured the topographic distribution of retinal ganglion cells and determined the spatial resolution of eight African megachiropterans with distinct roosting and feeding ecologies. We found that species roosting in open microhabitats have a pronounced streak of high retinal ganglion cell density, whereas those favoring more enclosed microhabitats have a less pronounced streak (or its absence in Hypsignathus monstrosus). An exception is the cave-dwelling Rousettus aegyptiacus, which has a pronounced horizontal streak that potentially correlates with its occurrence in more open environments during foraging. In all species, we found a temporal area with maximum retinal ganglion cell density (∼5,000–7,000 cells/mm2) that affords enhanced resolution in the frontal visual field. Our estimates of spatial resolution based on peak retinal ganglion cell density and eye size (∼6–12 mm in axial length) range between ∼2 and 4 cycles/degree. Species that occur in more enclosed microhabitats and feed on plant material have lower spatial resolution (∼2 cycles/degree) compared with those that roost in open and semiopen areas (∼3–3.8 cycles/degree). We suggest that the larger eye and concomitant higher spatial resolution (∼4 cycles/degree) in H. monstrosus may have facilitated the carnivorous aspect of its diet. In conclusion, variations in the topographic organization and magnitude of retinal ganglion density reflect the specific ecological needs to detect food/predators and the structural complexity of the environments. J. Comp. Neurol. 525:186–203, 2017.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)186-203
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017


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