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Stereopsis in animals: evolution, function and mechanisms

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Vivek Nityananda, Professor Jenny ReadORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Stereopsis is the computation of depth information from views acquired simultaneously from different points in space. For many years, stereopsis was thought to be confined to primates and other mammals with front-facing eyes. However, stereopsis has now been demonstrated in many other animals, including lateral-eyed prey mammals, birds, amphibians and invertebrates. The diversity of animals known to have stereo vision allows us to begin to investigate ideas about its evolution and the underlying selective pressures in different animals. It also further prompts the question of whether all animals have evolved essentially the same algorithms to implement stereopsis. If so, this must be the best way to do stereo vision, and should be implemented by engineers in machine stereopsis. Conversely, if animals have evolved a range of stereo algorithms in response to different pressures, that could inspire novel forms of machine stereopsis appropriate for distinct environments, tasks or constraints. As a first step towards addressing these ideas, we here review our current knowledge of stereo vision in animals, with a view towards outlining common principles about the evolution, function and mechanisms of stereo vision across the animal kingdom. We conclude by outlining avenues for future work, including research into possible new mechanisms of stereo vision, with implications for machine vision and the role of stereopsis in the evolution of camouflage.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Nityananda V, Read JCA

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Experimental Biology

Year: 2017

Volume: 220

Issue: 14

Pages: 2502-2512

Print publication date: 15/07/2017

Acceptance date: 25/04/2017

ISSN (print): 0022-0949

ISSN (electronic): 1477-9145


DOI: 10.1242/jeb.143883