Eye size and acuity as selective determinants of vestibular sensitivity



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The semicircular canals detect head rotations and trigger compensatory movements that stabilize gaze and help maintain visual fixation. Mammals with large eyes and high visual acuity presumably require more precise gaze stabilization mechanisms because they experience degradation of spatial resolution at a lower threshold of uncompensated motion. Because semicircular canal radius of curvature is a primary determinant of canal sensitivity, species with large canal radii are expected to be capable of more precise gaze stabilization than species with small canal radii. Here the relationship between semicircular canal radius of curvature, eye size, and visual acuity is examined in a large sample of therian mammals. These results demonstrate that eye size and visual acuity both explain a significant proportion of the variance in mean canal radius of curvature after statistically controlling for the effects of body mass and phylogeny. These findings suggest that interspecific variation in semicircular canal radius of curvature is partly the result of selection for improved gaze stabilization in species with large eyes and acute vision.