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PloS one

Evidence for an auditory fovea in the New Zealand kiwi (Apteryx mantelli).


PMID 21887317

Abstract

Kiwi are rare and strictly protected birds of iconic status in New Zealand. Yet, perhaps due to their unusual, nocturnal lifestyle, surprisingly little is known about their behaviour or physiology. In the present study, we exploited known correlations between morphology and physiology in the avian inner ear and brainstem to predict the frequency range of best hearing in the North Island brown kiwi. The mechanosensitive hair bundles of the sensory hair cells in the basilar papilla showed the typical change from tall bundles with few stereovilli to short bundles with many stereovilli along the apical-to-basal tonotopic axis. In contrast to most birds, however, the change was considerably less in the basal half of the epithelium. Dendritic lengths in the brainstem nucleus laminaris also showed the typical change along the tonotopic axis. However, as in the basilar papilla, the change was much less pronounced in the presumed high-frequency regions. Together, these morphological data suggest a fovea-like overrepresentation of a narrow high-frequency band in kiwi. Based on known correlations of hair-cell microanatomy and physiological responses in other birds, a specific prediction for the frequency representation along the basilar papilla of the kiwi was derived. The predicted overrepresentation of approximately 4-6 kHz matches potentially salient frequency bands of kiwi vocalisations and may thus be an adaptation to a nocturnal lifestyle in which auditory communication plays a dominant role.