Neural mechanisms and behaviors for acoustic communication in teleost fish

Prog Neurobiol. 2003 Jan;69(1):1-26. doi: 10.1016/s0301-0082(03)00004-2.


Sound communication is not unique to humans but rather is a trait shared with most non-mammalian vertebrates. A practical way to address questions of vocal signal encoding has been to identify mechanisms in non-mammalian model systems that use acoustic communication signals in their social behavior. Teleost fishes, the largest group of living vertebrates, include both vocal and non-vocal species that exploit a wide range of acoustic niches. Here, we focus on those vocal species where combined behavioral and neurobiological studies have recently begun to elucidate a suite of adaptations for both the production and the perception of acoustic signals essential to their reproductive success and survival. Studies of these model systems show that teleost fish have the vocal-acoustic behaviors and neural systems both necessary and sufficient to solve acoustic problems common to all vertebrates. In particular, behavioral studies demonstrate that temporal features within a call, including pulse duration, rate and number, can all be important to a call's communicative value. Neurobiological studies have begun to show how these features are produced by a vocal motor system extending from forebrain to hindbrain levels and are encoded by peripheral and central auditory neurons. The abundance and variety of vocal fish present unique opportunities for parallel investigations of neural encoding, perception, and communication across a diversity of natural, acoustic habitats. As such, investigations in teleosts contribute to our delineating the evolution of the vocal and auditory systems of both non-mammalian and mammalian species, including humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Biological Evolution
  • Fishes / physiology*
  • Hearing / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Prosencephalon / physiology*
  • Rhombencephalon / physiology*
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*