The polarization of light in a tropical rain forest

N. Shashar, T. W. Cronin, L. B. Wolff, M. A. Condon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


The light environment within forests presents complex patterns of brightness and spectral distribution of light. The polarized light field is no less complex. Using an imaging polarized light analyzer, we examined the natural fields of linearly polarized light in the tropical rain forest of Guatopo National Park, Venezuela. We found that the celestial polarization pattern remains visible underneath the forest canopy, although cloud and fog coverage may diffuse the light and reduce the polarization signal. We characterized several distinct light environments, each having a characteristic polarized light field. Furthermore, objects throughout the forest reflect light that is polarized in a predictable fashion depending upon the material, structure, and orientation of the reflecting surface. As a consequence of these patterns in the distribution of 0polarized light, some functions of polarization vision, such as navigation, must be limited to the spaces exposed to several extended portions of the sky, while others, such as remote sensing of surface orientation, object detection, and breaking of camouflage would be useful throughout the forest. The polarization of light adds another dimension to the complexity of the rain forest photic environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)275-285
Number of pages11
Issue number2
StatePublished - 15 Mar 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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