Latitudinal variation in light levels drives human visual system size (Northern Humans Had Bigger Brains)

Latitudinal variation in light levels drives human visual system size
Eiluned Pearce* and Robin Dunbar

Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, University of Oxford, 64 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 6PN, UK

Ambient light levels influence visual system size in birds and primates. Here, we argue that the same is true for humans. Light levels, in terms of both the amount of light hitting the Earth’s surface and day length, decrease with increasing latitude. We demonstrate a significant positive relationship between absolute latitude and human orbital volume, an index of eyeball size. Owing to tight scaling between visual system components, this will translate into enlarged visual cortices at higher latitudes. We also show that visual acuity measured under full-daylight conditions is constant across latitudes, indicating that selection for larger visual systems has mitigated the effect of reduced ambient light levels. This provides, to our knowledge, the first support that light levels drive intraspecific variation in visual system size in the human population.

Science daily

“This study adds weight to other research that has looked at the links between eye size and light levels. Other studies have already shown that birds with relatively bigger eyes are the first to sing at dawn in low light. The eyeball size across all primates has been found to be associated with when they choose to eat and forage — with species with the largest eyes being those that are active at night.”

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