Illuminating the function and evolution of iridescence.

By 12/25/2020Current Projects
HSF 20082 | Amount: $61,298 | Project Leader: T White | Project Period:

A project undertaken at The University of Sydney, and supervised by Thomas White

Vision dominates the sensory world of most animals, including humans, and colour is a central channel of communication. As exemplified by the shimmering wings of butterflies and our own fascination with film, visual communication operates in both space and time. Despite this dynamism, the study of colour and vision has proceeded in ‘static’ terms, which presents a hard limit to our understanding of the fluidity of visual communication.

Fig. 1 legend: Males (above) and females (below) of the Australian beach-dwelling fly Lispe cana. Their brilliant faces and wings are a product of structural colouration, which we seek to use as a model for understanding ecology, evolution, and optics of dynamic visual communication.

Nowhere is this limitation more apparent than in the study of iridescence; wherein optically active tissues change colour depending on how they are viewed or illuminated. Although showcased across diverse taxa and contexts, our understanding of the functional and adaptive significance of iridescence is in its infancy.

Our project aims to develop a research program that integrates the spectral, spatial, and temporal dimensions of visual communication, to further our understanding of the biological significance of iridescence. Through the use of a unique group of beach-dwelling Australian flies we seek to extend our theoretical understanding of how effective communication systems evolve and are shaped by selection, while also pursuing applied knowledge of the optical production and perception of dynamic visual information.

This work promises answers to longstanding questions in evolution and local adaptation, and may give rise to bio-inspired solutions to contemporary challenges in information processing.