We have employed both in vitro patch clamp recordings of hair cell synaptic vesicle fusion and in vivo single unit recording of cochlear nerve activity to study, at the same synapse, the time course, control, and physiological significance of readily releasable pool dynamics. Exocytosis of the readily releasable pool was fast, saturating in less than 50 ms, and recovery was also rapid, regaining 95% of its initial amplitude following a 200-ms period of repolarization. Longer depolarizations (greater than 250 ms) yielded a second, slower kinetic component of exocytosis. Both the second component of exocytosis and recovery of the readily releasable pool were blocked by the slow calcium buffer, EGTA. Sound-evoked afferent synaptic activity adapted and recovered with similar time courses as readily releasable pool exhaustion and recovery. Comparison of readily releasable pool amplitude, capture distances of calcium buffers, and number of vesicles tethered to the synaptic ribbon suggested that readily releasable pool dynamics reflect the depletion of release-ready vesicles tethered to the synaptic ribbon and the reloading of the ribbon with vesicles from the cytoplasm. Thus, we submit that rapid recovery of the cochlear hair cell afferent fiber synapse from short-term adaptation depends on the timely replenishment of the synaptic ribbon with vesicles from a cytoplasmic pool. This apparent rapid reloading of the synaptic ribbon with vesicles underscores important functional differences between synaptic ribbons in the auditory and visual systems.