Primate auditory diversity and its influence on hearing performance

Anat Rec A Discov Mol Cell Evol Biol. 2004 Nov;281(1):1123-37. doi: 10.1002/ar.a.20118.


The auditory region contains numerous structures that have proven useful for phylogenetic classification at various taxonomic levels. However, little work has been done in primates relating differences in morphology to variations in hearing performance. This study documents anatomical and physiological distinctions within primates and begins to address the functional and evolutionary consequences of these and other auditory features. The dimensions of the outer ear (pinna) were measured in cadaveric specimens representing nearly every primate family and used to calculate a shape ratio (height/width). It was found that nonanthropoids have a significantly higher ratio than anthropoids, although the actual height was not found to differ. This indicates that most nonanthropoids have ears that are tall and narrow, whereas monkeys and apes are characterized by ears with more equal height and width dimensions. Eardrum area, stapedial footplate area, and ossicular lever arm lengths were measured in dried specimens to calculate an impedance transformer ratio. A distinction was found between anthropoids and strepsirrhines, with the latter group having a transformer ratio indicative of a higher percentage of acoustic energy transmission through the middle ear. Audiogram data were gathered from the literature to analyze hearing sensitivity and it was found that platyrrhines illustrate more low-frequency sensitivity than like-sized lorisoids. The effects of intraspecific variation on the audiogram results were also examined and were found to produce similar results as the analysis using species mean threshold values. Lastly, correlations between morphological and audiogram variables were examined. Several measures of hearing sensitivity were found to be correlated with pinna shape but correlations with middle ear transmission properties were weaker. In addition to using traditional statistical techniques, phylogenetic corrective methods were applied to address the problem of statistical nonindependence of the data and the results of both analyses are compared. These findings are discussed with respect to how sensory adaptations and phylogenetic history may be related to the current radiation of primates.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Audiometry
  • Auditory Threshold / physiology
  • Biological Evolution
  • Ear Ossicles / anatomy & histology
  • Ear Ossicles / physiology
  • Ear, External / anatomy & histology*
  • Ear, External / physiology
  • Ear, Middle / anatomy & histology*
  • Ear, Middle / physiology
  • Hearing / physiology*
  • Phylogeny
  • Pitch Discrimination / physiology
  • Primates / anatomy & histology*
  • Primates / physiology
  • Species Specificity