Remarks on the inner ear of elasmobranchs and its interpretation from skeletal labyrinth morphology


  • John G. Maisey

    Corresponding author
    1. Division of Paleontology, American Museum of Natural History, New York, New York
    • Division of Paleontology, American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West and 79th Street, New York, NY 10024-5192
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The structure and function of the craniate inner ear is reviewed, with 33 apomorphic characters of the membranous labyrinth and associated structures identified in craniates, gnathostomes, and elasmobranchs. Elasmobranchs are capable of low-frequency semi-directional phonoreception, even in the absence of any pressure-to-displacement transducer such as ear ossicles. The endolymphatic (parietal) fossa, semicircular canals, and crista (macula) neglecta are all adapted toward phonoreception. Some (but not all) of the morphological features associated with phonoreception can be inferred from the elasmobranch skeletal labyrinth. Endocranial spaces such as the skeletal labyrinth also provide suites of morphological characters that may be incorporated into phylogenetic analyses, irrespective of how closely these spaces reflect underlying soft anatomy. The skeletal labyrinths of Squalus and Notorynchus are compared using silicone endocasts and high-resolution CT-scanning. The latter procedure offers several advantages over other techniques; it is more informative, nondestructive, preserves relationships of surrounding structures, and it can be applied both to modern and fossil material. J. Morphol. 250:236–264, 2001. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.