Associated tympanic bullar and cochlear hypertrophy define adaptations to true deserts in African gerbils and laminate-toothed rats (Muridae: Gerbillinae and Murinae)
de Beer, F.
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Hearing capabilities in desert rodents such as gerbils and heteromyids have been inferred from both anatomical and ecological aspects and tested with experiments and theoretical models. However, very few studies have focused on other desert-adapted species. In this study, a refined three-dimensional morphometric approach was used on three African rodent tribes (Otomyini, Taterillini and Gerbillini) to describe the cochlear and tympanic bullar morphology, and to explore the role of phylogeny, allometry and ecology to better understand the underlying mechanism of any observed trends of hypertrophy in the bulla and associated changes in the cochlea. As a result, desert-adapted species could be distinguished from mesic and semi-arid taxa by the gross cochlear dimensions, particularly the oval window, which is larger in desert species. Bullar and cochlear modifications between species could be explained by environment (bulla and oval window), phylogeny (cochlear curvature gradient) and/or allometry (cochlear relative length, oval window and bulla) with some exceptions. Based on their ear anatomy, we predict that Desmodillus auricularis and Parotomys brantsii should be sensitive to low frequency sounds, with D. auricularis sensitive to high-frequency sounds, too. This study concludes that in both arid and semi-arid adapted laminate-toothed rats and gerbils there is bulla and associated cochlea hypertrophy, particularly in true desert species. Gerbils also show tightly coiled cochlea but the significance of this is debatable and may have nothing to do with adaptations to any specific acoustics in the desert environment.
- RESEARCH: Taylor, P