Based on the annual Karger Workshop in Chicago in 2009, this special topical issue serves as a platform to honor Prof. Barrie Frost, who is best known for his work on the neurophysiology of visual systems. The publication includes works by researchers who have explored vision in a wide range of species and environments. In this issue the ability of salmonids to detect polarized light is discussed, as are the similarities and differences between pigeon and primate visual systems with respect to behavior and the brain. Further discussions include the constraints placed upon mammalian visual systems by their evolutionary history, the influences of ecology and phylogeny on the design of the visual system, and the visual cues used by nocturnal arthropods in navigation. Finally, Prof. Barrie Frost provides a 'taxonomy' of different forms of visual motion in the brain, which will help to guide future neurophysiological research on visual motion processing.