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BACKGROUND: By examining species-specific innate behaviours, neuroethologists have characterised unique neural strategies and specializations from throughout the animal kingdom. Simultaneously, the field of evolutionary developmental biology (informally, "evo-devo") seeks to make inferences about animals' evolutionary histories through careful comparison of developmental processes between species, because evolution is the evolution of development. Yet despite the shared focus on cross-species comparisons, there is surprisingly little cross-talk between these two fields. Insights can be gleaned at the intersection of neuroethology and evo-devo. Every animal develops within an environment, wherein ecological pressures advantage some behaviours and disadvantage others. These pressures are reflected in the neurodevelopmental strategies employed by different animals across taxa. SUMMARY: Vision is a system of particular interest for studying the adaptation of animals to their environments. The visual system enables a wide variety of animals across the vertebrate lineage to interact with their environments, presenting a fantastic opportunity to examine how ecological pressures have shaped animals' behaviours and developmental strategies. Applying a neuroethological lens to the study of visual development, we advance a novel theory that accounts for the evolution of spontaneous retinal waves, an important phenomenon in the development of the visual system, across the vertebrate lineage. KEY MESSAGES: We synthesise literature on spontaneous retinal waves from across the vertebrate lineage. We find that ethological considerations explain some cross-species differences in the dynamics of retinal waves. In zebrafish, retinal waves may be more important for the development of the retina itself, rather than the retinofugal projections. We additionally suggest empirical tests to determine whether Xenopus laevis experiences retinal waves.

Original publication




Journal article


Brain Behav Evol

Publication Date