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Integr Zool. 2009 Mar;4(1):26-32. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-4877.2008.00132.x.

Soundscapes and the sense of hearing of fishes.

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Parmly Hearing Institute, Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, USA.


Underwater soundscapes have probably played an important role in the adaptation of ears and auditory systems of fishes throughout evolutionary time, and for all species. These sounds probably contain important information about the environment and about most objects and events that confront the receiving fish so that appropriate behavior is possible. For example, the sounds from reefs appear to be used by at least some fishes for their orientation and migration. These sorts of environmental sounds should be considered much like "acoustic daylight," that continuously bathes all environments and contain information that all organisms can potentially use to form a sort of image of the environment. At present, however, we are generally ignorant of the nature of ambient sound fields impinging on fishes, and the adaptive value of processing these fields to resolve the multiple sources of sound. Our field has focused almost exclusively on the adaptive value of processing species-specific communication sounds, and has not considered the informational value of ambient "noise." Since all fishes can detect and process acoustic particle motion, including the directional characteristics of this motion, underwater sound fields are potentially more complex and information-rich than terrestrial acoustic environments. The capacities of one fish species (goldfish) to receive and make use of such sound source information have been demonstrated (sound source segregation and auditory scene analysis), and it is suggested that all vertebrate species have this capacity. A call is made to better understand underwater soundscapes, and the associated behaviors they determine in fishes.

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