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Propagation of Bioluminescent Signals Underwater
Visibility of Aquatic Animals

The Relationship Between Tissue Ultrastructure and Transparency

The Visual Ecology of Polarization Vision

The Effect of Ultraviolet Vision on Predation

Optical Sampling Techniques for Zooplankton


Sample Research Projects

Propagation of Bioluminescent Signals Underwater

Bioluminescence is extremely common in the open ocean and is used for many purposes including sexual signaling, crypsis, warning, luring, and blinding. However, despite its importance, little is known about what these bioluminescent signals look like to various species, after they have traveled through the water and a given visual system.

In collaboration with Curtis Mobley (Sequoia Scientific) and Edith Widder (Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution), we are currently modeling the effects of the medium and the visual system on a variety of bioluminescent patterns using Monte Carlo and Fourier image processing methods. Some of the questions we would like to answer include:

  • how much spatial complexity is preserved over long distances?
  • what colors are most useful for bioluminescent "flashlights"?
  • how optimal is the placement of photophores for counterillumination?


Clockwise from upper-left: Ventral surface of Hatchet fish, Warning display of the mesopelagic scyphozoan Atolla vanhoeffeni, ventral surface of a myctophid (lantern) fish, ventral surface of Melanostomias.



Johnsen, S. (2005). The red and the black: Bioluminescence and the color of animals in the deep sea. Integrative and Comparative Biology. (in press)

Johnsen, S., Widder, E. A., Mobley, C. D., and P. J. Herring (2004). Propagation and perception of bioluminescence: factors affecting the success of counterillumination as a cryptic strategy. Biological Bulletin: 207: 1-16.


Duke University | Biological Sciences Bldg, Room 301 | (919) 660-7321 | sjohnsen@duke.edu