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Keywords:

  • evoked potentials;
  • audiogram;
  • acoustics;
  • sensory ecology;
  • slow loris;
  • ring-tailed lemur

Abstract

Primates depend on acoustic signals and cues to avoid predators, locate food, and share information. Accordingly, the structure and function of acoustic stimuli have long been emphasized in studies of primate behavioral and cognitive ecology. Yet, few studies have addressed how well primates hear such stimuli; indeed, the auditory thresholds of most primate species are unknown. This empirical void is due in part to the logistic and economic challenges attendant on traditional behavioral testing methods. Technological advances have produced a safe and cost-effective alternative—the auditory brainstem response (ABR) method, which can be utilized in field conditions, on virtually any animal species, and without subject training. Here we used the ABR and four methods of threshold determination to construct audiograms for two strepsirrhine primates: the ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta) and slow loris (Nycticebus coucang). Next, to verify the general efficacy of the ABR method, we compared our results to published behaviorally-derived audiograms. We found that the four ABR threshold detection methods produced similar results, including relatively elevated thresholds but similarly shaped audiograms compared to those derived behaviorally. The ABR and behavioral absolute thresholds were significantly correlated, and the frequencies of best sensitivity and high-frequency limits were comparable. However, at frequencies ≤2 kHz, ABR thresholds were especially elevated, resulting in decreased agreement with behavioral thresholds and, in Lemur, the ABR 10-dB range starting points were more than 2 octaves higher than the behavioral points. Finally, a comparison of ABR- and behaviorally-derived audiograms from various animal taxa demonstrates the widespread efficacy of the ABR for estimating frequency of best sensitivity, but otherwise suggests caution; factors such as stimulus properties and threshold definition affect results. We conclude that the ABR method is a promising technique for estimating primate hearing sensitivity, but that additional data are required to explore its efficacy for estimating low-frequency thresholds. Am. J. Primatol. 72:217–233, 2010. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.