Living in slow motion

Nieuws | de redactie
26 september 2013 | Small animals see their environment completely different than their larger peers. A smaller size and a higher metabolic rate help to respond quickly to potential threats. “The results suggest that time perception may constitute an important and overlooked dimension of niche differentiation.”

Body size and metabolic rate both determine how species interact with their environment, and so ultimately affect their niche, research led by Trinity College Dublin shows. While many mechanisms leading to these constraints have been explored, their effects on the resolution at which temporal information is perceived have until now been largely overlooked.

Slow motion, quick response

The visual system acts as a gateway to the dynamic environment and the relative resolution at which organisms are able to acquire and process visual information is likely to restrict their ability to interact with events around them. As both smaller size and higher metabolic rates should facilitate rapid behavioral responses, the researchers hypothesized that these traits would favor perception of temporal change over finer timescales.

This was checked by using the critical flicker fusion frequency, the lowest frequency of flashing at which a flickering light source is perceived as constant. Research among a wide range of vertebrates showed that “that smaller organisms and those with higher metabolic rates perceive temporal change on finer timescales.”

The results from this research have implications for the evolution of signaling systems and predator–prey interactions, the researchers state. Combined with the strong influence that both body mass and metabolism have on a species’ ecological niche, suggest that time perception may constitute an important and overlooked dimension of niche differentiation.

How does a small animal, like a mouse see the world? This video might give an impression.

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