Polarized light sensitivity and orientation in coral reef fish post-larvae

Igal Berenshtein, Moshe Kiflawi, Nadav Shashar, Uri Wieler, Haim Agiv, Claire B. Paris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent studies of the larvae of coral-reef fishes reveal that these tiny vertebrates possess remarkable swimming capabilities, as well as the ability to orient to olfactory, auditory, and visual cues. While navigation according to reef-generated chemicals and sounds can significantly affect dispersal, the effect is limited to the vicinity of the reef. Effective long-distance navigation requires at least one other capacity-the ability to maintain a bearing using, for example, a sun compass. Directional information in the sun's position can take the form of polarized-light related cues (i.e., e-vector orientation and percent polarization) and/or non-polarized-light related cues (i.e., the direct image of the sun, and the brightness and spectral gradients). We examined the response to both types of cues using commercially-reared post-larvae of the spine-cheeked anemonefish Premnas biaculeatus. Initial optomotor trials indicated that the post-larval stages are sensitive to linearly polarized light. Swimming directionality was then tested using a Drifting In-Situ Chamber (DISC), which allowed us to examine the response of the post-larvae to natural variation in light conditions and to manipulated levels of light polarization. Under natural light conditions, 28 of 29 post-larvae showed significant directional swimming (Rayleigh's test p<0.05, R = 0.74±0.23), but to no particular direction. Swimming directionality was positively affected by sky clarity (absence of clouds and haze), which explained 38% of the observed variation. Moreover, post-larvae swimming under fully polarized light exhibited a distinct behavior of tracking the polarization axis, as it rotated along with the DISC. This behavior was not observed under partially-polarized illumination. We view these findings as an indication for the use of sun-related cues, and polarized light signal in specific, by orienting coral-reef fish larvae.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere88468
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number2
StatePublished - 7 Feb 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Amit Lerner, Naama Kimmerling, Cedric M. Guigand, Moti Ohavia, Ofri Mann, IUI staff, Natalie Shalev, Dror Komet, Imanuel Sestieri, Steve McCusker, Ori Grinholtz, Ardag inc., Rael Horwitz., Barak Yarden, Oded Ben-Shaprut, Genadi Zalzman for their assistance in different parts of this study. Comments by two anonymous reviewers greatly improved this manuscript. DISC instrument development was funded by NSF-OTIC 1155698 to C. B. Paris.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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