Environmental influences in the evolution of tetrapod hearing sensitivity and middle ear tuning

  • Gridi-Papp M
  • Narins P
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Vertebrates inhabit and communicate acoustically in most natural environments. We review the influence of environmental factors on the hearing sensitivity of terrestrial vertebrates, and on the anatomy and mechanics of the middle ears. Evidence suggests that both biotic and abiotic environmental factors affect the evolution of bandwidth and frequency of peak sensitivity of the hearing spectrum. Relevant abiotic factors include medium type, temperature, and noise produced by nonliving sources. Biotic factors include heterospecific, conspecific, or self-produced sounds that animals are selected to recognize, and acoustic interference by sounds that other animals generate. Within each class of tetrapods, the size of the middle ear structures correlates directly to body size and inversely to frequency of peak sensitivity. Adaptation to the underwater medium in cetaceans involved reorganization of the middle ear for novel acoustic pathways, whereas adaptation to subterranean life in several mammals resulted in hypertrophy of the middle ear ossicles to enhance their inertial mass for detection of seismic vibrations. The comparative approach has revealed a number of generalities about the effect of environmental factors on hearing performance and middle ear structure across species. The current taxonomic sampling of the major tetrapod groups is still highly unbalanced and incomplete. Future expansion of the comparative evidence should continue to reveal general patterns and novel mechanisms.

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  • Marcos Gridi-Papp

  • Peter M. Narins

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