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Crypsis in the Pelagic Environment

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/icb/30.1.175 175-188 First published online: 1 February 1990


Pelagic aquatic environments differ from terrestrial environments in being three-dimensional and relatively homogeneous, rather than two-dimensional and heterogeneous. The present paper examines the causes and consequences of these differences in the context of their influence on the interactions of animals with environmental light. Particular emphasis is placed on light as a determinant of effective modes of crypsis in the two different habitats. The terrestrial world has selected for the expression of crypticity in the form of superficial color patterns. The heterogeneity of this habitat has resulted in evolutionary divergence of these superficial color patterns, often in very closely-related animals. In contrast, in the homogeneous pelagic aquatic habitats, evolutionary convergence on three main forms of crypsis is evident: (1) transparency; (2) reflection of most, if not all visible wavelengths; and, (3) ventral bioluminescence as counterillumination; thus, to be cryptic most animals in these habitats use one or a combination of these modalities to variously transmit, reflect or mimic environmental light. In the present paper, special attention is given to transparency as the most prevalent, yet least understood, of these mechanisms that are used in predator-prey interactions.

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