Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


How gerbils orient in the light of the setting sun


A light brown remains light brown: For gerbils, the fur color of their conspecifics appears identical under different lighting conditions. The ability of color constancy in rodents has been demonstrated for the first time by Munich neurobiologists. The findings are published in the current issue of the Journal of Vision.

A green apple is green, but the green is not always the same. In varying light conditions—like at sunset—the spectrum of the light that is reflected by the fruit and falls on our retina, changes. Nevertheless, we continue to perceive the color of the apple as green because the human brain compensates for the influences of illumination by evaluating the color and brightness composition across the entire visual field.

A dark-colored gerbil (figure A, top right) recognizes its dark fellow, although due to the shadow the fur of the light brown animal (bottom left) has a more similar spectral composition (figure B).

Copyright: Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, 2015

This capacity is known as color and brightness constancy and is important for object recognition. Researchers at the Bernstein Center Munich and the LMU Munich, led by Kay Thurley and Thomas Wachter, have now investigated whether rodents also possess this remarkable perceptual ability.

In the study, the researchers showed gerbils colored patches on different colored backgrounds. The animals were looking at a screen while sitting on a sphere that worked like a treadmill. They were thus able to virtually move towards the stimuli and select one of it as response.

During the experiment, half of the animals had to identify the object in which the patch appeared more greenish than its background. The other animals had to identify the object they perceived as bluish compared to its background. When the rodents gave the correct answer, they received a food reward.

"The gerbils reliably recognized the correct patches despite varying color compositions across the experimental trials," explains Thomas Wachtler. Hence, under different lighting conditions the rodents consistently perceive a green apple or a brown fur as green or brown, respectively.

Moreover, they also perceive the brightness of an object as constant, as the researchers demonstrated in another experiment. Gerbils are thus the first rodents shown to have the ability of color and brightness constancy. The result suggests that other animals may possess this perceptual ability, too.

"For gerbils, which are diurnal and crepuscular animals, the ability to accurately identify objects despite changing lightning conditions is essential for survival. They orient using their sense of vision to forage or recognize conspecifics," says Kay Thurley, main author of the study. The result has significant implications for neurobiology: "Gerbils are a popular animal model in auditory neuroscience. But in contrast to other rodents, gerbils also have well developed vision, making these rodents especially suitable for experiments in virtual realities," Thurley says.

The Bernstein Center Munich is part of the National Bernstein Network Computational Neuroscience in Germany. With this funding initiative, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has supported the new discipline of Computational Neuroscience since 2004 with over 180 million Euros. The network is named after the German physiologist Julius Bernstein (1835-1917).

PD Dr. Thomas Wachtler
LMU Munich
Department Biology II
Großhaderner Straße 2
82152 Martinsried
Tel: +49 (0)89 2180 74810 


Dr. Kay Thurley
LMU Munich
Department Biology II
Großhaderner Straße 2
82152 Planegg-Martinsried
Tel: +49 (0)89 2180 74823

Original publication:
C. Garbers, J. Henke, C. Leibold, T. Wachtler & K. Thurley (2015): Contextual processing of brightness and color in Mongolian gerbils. Journal of Vision, 15(1), 1 – 13.
doi: 10.1167/15.1.13

Weitere Informationen: Webpage Kay Thurley Webpage Thomas Wachtler LMU Munich Bernstein Center Munich National Bernstein Network Computational Neuroscience

Mareike Kardinal | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht When fat cells change their colour
28.10.2016 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

nachricht Aquaculture: Clear Water Thanks to Cork
28.10.2016 | Technologie Lizenz-Büro (TLB) der Baden-Württembergischen Hochschulen GmbH

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel light sources made of 2D materials

Physicists from the University of Würzburg have designed a light source that emits photon pairs. Two-photon sources are particularly well suited for tap-proof data encryption. The experiment's key ingredients: a semiconductor crystal and some sticky tape.

So-called monolayers are at the heart of the research activities. These "super materials" (as the prestigious science magazine "Nature" puts it) have been...

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Prototype device for measuring graphene-based electromagnetic radiation created

28.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Gamma ray camera offers new view on ultra-high energy electrons in plasma

28.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

When fat cells change their colour

28.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>