Topographic analyses of retinal ganglion cell density are very useful in providing information about the visual ecology of a species by identifying areas of acute vision within the visual field (i.e. areas of high cell density). In this study, we investigated the neural cell distribution in the ganglion cell layer of a range of lanternfish species belonging to 10 genera. Analyses were performed on wholemounted retinas using stereology. Topographic maps were constructed of the distribution of all neurons and both ganglion and amacrine cell populations in 5 different species from Nissl-stained retinas using cytological criteria. Amacrine cell distribution was also examined immunohistochemically in 2 of the 5 species using anti-parvalbumin antibody. The distributions of both the total neuron and the amacrine cell populations were aligned in all of the species examined, showing a general increase in cell density toward the retinal periphery. However, when the ganglion cell population was topographically isolated from the amacrine cell population, which comprised up to 80% of the total neurons within the ganglion cell layer, a different distribution was revealed. Topographic maps of the true ganglion cell distribution in 18 species of lanternfishes revealed well-defined specializations in different regions of the retina. Different species possessed distinct areas of high ganglion cell density with respect to both peak density and the location and/or shape of the specialized acute zone (i.e. elongated areae ventro-temporales, areae temporales and large areae centrales). The spatial resolving power was calculated to be relatively low (varying from 1.6 to 4.4 cycles per degree), indicating that myctophids may constitute one of the less visually acute groups of deep-sea teleosts. The diversity in retinal specializations and spatial resolving power within the family is assessed in terms of possible ecological functions and evolutionary history.

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