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Keywords:

  • low frequency sensitivity;
  • middle ear;
  • inner ear;
  • auditory sensitivity;
  • evolution of hearing

Abstract

In recent years it has become possible to investigate the hearing capabilities in fossils by analogy with studies in living taxa that correlate the bony morphology of the auditory system with hearing sensitivity. In this analysis, we used a jack-knife procedure to test the accuracy of one such study that examined the functional morphology of the primate auditory system and we found that low-frequency hearing (sound pressure level at 250 Hz) can be predicted with relatively high confidence (±3–8 dB depending on the structure). Based on these functional relationships, we then used high-resolution computed tomography to examine the auditory region of three fossil New World monkeys (Homunculus, Dolicocebus, and Tremacebus) and compared their morphology and predicted low-frequency sensitivity with a phylogenetically diverse sample of extant primates. These comparisons reveal that these extinct taxa shared many auditory characteristics with living platyrrhines. However, the fossil with the best preserved auditory region (Homunculus) also displayed a few unique features such as the relative size of the tympanic membrane and stapedial footplate and the degree of trabeculation of the anterior accessory cavity. Still, the majority of evidence suggests that these fossil species likely had similar low-frequency sensitivity to extant South American monkeys. This research adds to the small but growing body of evidence on the evolution of hearing abilities in extinct taxa and lays the groundwork for predicting hearing sensitivity in additional fossil primate specimens. Anat Rec 293:1711–1721, 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.