The retina of vertebrates shows adaptations to the visual environment in which they evolve. Thus, there exists a relationship between the topographic distribution of retinal cells, the adaptive strategies employed, and habitat, so that, analyses of retinal ganglion cell topography provide information about the behavioral ecology of a species.Although these relationships are well documented in many vertebrates, including mammals, for species within the marsupial order, they are not well understood. However, marsupials represent an ideal group for comparative analyses of interspecific variations in the mammalian visual system because they contain species that vary in both lifestyle and habitat preference. In this paper the interspecific variation in retinal ganglion cell topography in 13 species ofAustralian marsupials is reviewed. The species that live in open habitats have well-defined elongated visual streaks. In contrast, forest-dwelling marsupials have poorly defined visual streaks and a more radially symmetrical arrangement of retinal ganglion cell (RGC) isodensity contours. However, the organization and degree of elongation of the visual streak varies considerably among species. The results indicate that the apparent interspecific variation is associated with activity pattern and habitat as opposed to the phylogenetic relationships among species.
KEY WORDS: Marsupial retina; Visual ecology; Ganglion cell topography.