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Acuity and summation strategies differ in vinegar and desert fruit flies


An animal's vision depends on terrain features that limit the amount and distribution of available light. Approximately 10,000 years ago, vinegar flies (Drosophila melanogaster) transitioned from a single plant specialist into a cosmopolitan generalist. Much earlier, desert flies (D. mojavensis) colonized the New World, specializing on rotting cactuses in southwest North America. Their desert habitats are characteristically flat, bright, and barren, implying environmental differences in light availability. Here, we demonstrate differences in eye morphology and visual motion perception under three ambient light levels. Reducing ambient light from 35 to 18 cd/m2 causes sensitivity loss in desert but not vinegar flies. However, at 3 cd/m2, desert flies sacrifice spatial and temporal acuity more severely than vinegar flies to maintain contrast sensitivity. These visual differences help vinegar flies navigate under variably lit habitats around the world and desert flies brave the harsh desert while accommodating their crepuscular lifestyle.

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