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The mammalian Cretaceous cochlear revolution.

January 20 , 2017:


During the Cretaceous period, major changes occurred in evolving mammalian cochleae.

The loss of the lagenar macula caused a fall in calcium concentrations and a crisis in mammalian hearing abilities.

Prestin evolution was likely the most important result of this crisis, and restored therian hearing levels.


The hearing organs of amniote vertebrates show large differences in their size and structure between the species’ groups. In spite of this, their performance in terms of hearing sensitivity and the frequency selectivity of auditory-nerve units shows unexpectedly small differences. The only substantial difference is that therian, defined as live-bearing, mammalian groups are able to hear ultrasonic frequencies (above 15–20 kHz), whereas in contrast monotreme (egg laying) mammals and all non-mammalian amniotes cannot. This review compares the structure and physiology of the cochleae of the main groups and asks the question as to why the many structural differences seen in therian mammals arose, yet did not result in greater differences in physiology. The likely answers to this question are found in the history of the mammals during the Cretaceous period that ended 65 million years ago. During that period, the therian cochlea lost its lagenar macula, leading to a fall in endolymph calcium levels. This likely resulted in a small revolution and an auditory crisis that was compensated for by a subsequent series of structural and physiological adaptations. The end result was a system of equivalent performance to that independently evolved in other amniotes but with the additional – and of course “unforeseen” - advantage that ultrasonic-frequency responses became an available option. That option was not always availed of, but in most groups of therian mammals it did evolve and is used for communication and orientation based on improved sound localization, with micro-bats and toothed whales relying on it for prey capture.

Geoffrey A. Manley (2016)

The mammalian Cretaceous cochlear revolution.

Hearing Research (advance online publication)

doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.heares.2016.12.007


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