Bioluminescent signals and the role of reflectors

Herring, P.J.. 2000 Bioluminescent signals and the role of reflectors. Journal of Optics A: Pure and Applied, 2 (6). R29-R38.

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Organisms in a well lit environment use optical signals derived from the selective reflection of ambient light. In a dim or dark environment it is very difficult (because of low photon numbers) to detect the contrast between light reflected from the organism and that from the background, and many organisms use bioluminescent signals instead. The use of such signals on land is largely restricted to sexual signalling by the luminous beetles, but in the deep ocean their use is widespread, involving both many different organisms and a range of uses which parallel those of reflective signals on land. Some bioluminescent signals rely almost entirely on an optically unmodified light source (e.g. a secretion) but others depend upon complex optical structures, particularly reflectors, in the light-emitting organs. Reflectors in the light organs of many shrimp, squid and fish are based on constructive interference systems but employ different biological materials. They and other structures modify the angular, spectral and intensity distributions of bioluminescent signals. The ready availability of highly efficient biological reflectors has been a formative influence in the evolution of bioluminescent signalling in the sea.

Item Type: Publication - Article
ISSN: 1464-4258
Additional Keywords: Bioluminescence, light signals, reflectors, photophores, constructive interference, spectral tuning
Date made live: 13 Jan 2009 +0 (UTC)

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