Polarisation signals: A new currency for communication

N. Justin Marshall, Samuel B. Powell, Thomas W. Cronin, Roy L. Caldwell, Sonke Johnsen, Viktor Gruev, T. H.Short Chiou, Nicholas W. Roberts, Martin J. How

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Most polarisation vision studies reveal elegant examples of how animals, mainly the invertebrates, use polarised light cues for navigation, course-control or habitat selection. Within the past two decades it has been recognised that polarised light, reflected, blocked or transmitted by some animal and plant tissues, may also provide signals that are received or sent between or within species. Much as animals use colour and colour signalling in behaviour and survival, other species additionally make use of polarisation signalling, or indeed may rely on polarisation-based signals instead. It is possible that the degree (or percentage) of polarisation provides a more reliable currency of information than the angle or orientation of the polarised light electric vector (e-vector). Alternatively, signals with specific e-vector angles may be important for some behaviours. Mixed messages, making use of polarisation and colour signals, also exist. While our knowledge of the physics of polarised reflections and sensory systems has increased, the observational and behavioural biology side of the story needs more (and more careful) attention. This Review aims to critically examine recent ideas and findings, and suggests ways forward to reveal the use of light that we cannot see.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberjeb134213
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2019


  • Polarised light
  • Signalling
  • Vision

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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