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Proc Biol Sci. 2009 Apr 7;276(1660):1355-60. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2008.1390. Epub 2009 Jan 13.

Inner ear anatomy is a proxy for deducing auditory capability and behaviour in reptiles and birds.

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  • 1Department of Palaeontology, The Natural History Museum, London SW7 5BD, UK.


Inferences of hearing capabilities and audition-related behaviours in extinct reptiles and birds have previously been based on comparing cochlear duct dimensions with those of living species. However, the relationship between inner-ear bony anatomy and hearing ability or vocalization has never been tested rigorously in extant or fossil taxa. Here, micro-computed tomographic analysis is used to investigate whether simple endosseous cochlear duct (ECD) measurements can be fitted to models of hearing sensitivity, vocalization, sociality and environmental preference in 59 extant reptile and bird species, selected based on their vocalization ability. Length, rostrocaudal/mediolateral width and volume measurements were taken from ECD virtual endocasts and scaled to basicranial length. Multiple regression of these data with measures of hearing sensitivity, vocal complexity, sociality and environmental preference recovered positive correlations between ECD length and hearing range/mean frequency, vocal complexity, the behavioural traits of pair bonding and living in large aggregations, and a negative correlation between ECD length/rostrocaudal width and aquatic environments. No other dimensions correlated with these variables. Our results suggest that ECD length can be used to predict mean hearing frequency and range in fossil taxa, and that this measure may also predict vocal complexity and large group sociality given comprehensive datasets.

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