We finish the Savile Science Year with a talk by Professor Glen Jeffrey on Reindeer – a topical subject as we approach Christmas and the Festive Season. Humans often regard vision as a constant, but this is incorrect. Every animal sees the world in a different way, as it has evolved separately in each to exploit different visual advantages in their environments. All mammals apart from primates are actually red/green colour blind, but nearly all of these are able see into the ultra-violet, which we cannot. Bees cannot see red, whales cannot see blue. Even more surprisingly, some animals that live in extreme visual environments such as the Arctic with its constant light in summer and constant darkness in winter, actually tune their visual systems seasonally to changes in environmental light. These changes in Arctic vision have been a key interest for Glen and his lab working with reindeer population.

Our visual abilities reflect our evolutionary history. All mammals including us have a nocturnal history extending back millions of years, but we are changing the world, flooding it with artificial light at night. This is imposing redundancy on more than 90% of the receptors humans use to view the world and disrupting animal behaviour.

Glen is a research scientist at the Institute of Ophthalmology, University College London with a key interest in the evolution of vision. He was an undergraduate at Sussex University reading Neuroscience and moved onto Oxford for his doctorate. He has held positions at Chicago University, University College London and then back at Oxford before settling down at The Institute of Ophthalmology.

Chairman: Savilian Ken Allen