Departmental Seminar: Shape from shading in nature: Does it provide optimal camouflage?
Professor Julie Harris, University of St Andrews
Departmental Seminar Series
Thursday, 14 November 2019, 12.15pm to 1.15pm
New Radcliffe House Radcliffe Observatory Quarter Oxford OX2 6GG
Hosted by Professor Hannah Smithson
Shape-from shading is a powerful source of visual information about depth and shape. It has been argued that some animals have evolved a form of camouflage to counter the effects of shape from shading. This patterning is called countershading: a darker colour on the back and lighter on the belly, and it appears in many taxa and environments. The countershading pattern has been proposed to contribute to visual camouflage by counterbalancing the gradient of illumination on the body to deliver reduced shading. But the actual counter-shading pattern on animals has not been adequately quantified, and empirical studies that explore it have not attempted to predict optimal shading patterns. We have examined the camouflage counter-shading hypothesis in a number of ways: (i) by developing a physical light model of counter-shaded animals in realistic environments and using the model to make specific predictions, (ii) by testing empirically the effect of different countershading patterns on visual detection performance, and (iii) measuring the three-dimensional form and reflectance of counter-shaded species of caterpillar to determine how the real pattern could contribute to concealing shape. My talk will discuss how we have been able to demonstrate that counter-shading can provide a form of camouflage that conceals three-dimensional shape, and how vision science can successfully intersect with behavioural ecology.