Relative Size of Auditory Pathways in Symmetrically and Asymmetrically Eared OwlsGutiérrez-Ibáñez C.a · Iwaniuk A.N.c · Wylie D.R.a, b
aUniversity Centre for Neuroscience and bDepartment of Psychology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alta., and cDepartment of Neuroscience, Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alta., Canada
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Article / Publication Details
Owls are highly efficient predators with a specialized auditory system designed to aid in the localization of prey. One of the most unique anatomical features of the owl auditory system is the evolution of vertically asymmetrical ears in some species, which improves their ability to localize the elevational component of a sound stimulus. In the asymmetrically eared barn owl, interaural time differences (ITD) are used to localize sounds in azimuth, whereas interaural level differences (ILD) are used to localize sounds in elevation. These two features are processed independently in two separate neural pathways that converge in the external nucleus of the inferior colliculus to form an auditory map of space. Here, we present a comparison of the relative volume of 11 auditory nuclei in both the ITD and the ILD pathways of 8 species of symmetrically and asymmetrically eared owls in order to investigate evolutionary changes in the auditory pathways in relation to ear asymmetry. Overall, our results indicate that asymmetrically eared owls have much larger auditory nuclei than owls with symmetrical ears. In asymmetrically eared owls we found that both the ITD and ILD pathways are equally enlarged, and other auditory nuclei, not directly involved in binaural comparisons, are also enlarged. We suggest that the hypertrophy of auditory nuclei in asymmetrically eared owls likely reflects both an improved ability to precisely locate sounds in space and an expansion of the hearing range. Additionally, our results suggest that the hypertrophy of nuclei that compute space may have preceded that of the expansion of the hearing range and evolutionary changes in the size of the auditory system occurred independently of phylogeny.
© 2011 S. Karger AG, Basel
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