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Keeping an ear out: Size relationship of the tympanic bullae and pinnae in bandicoots and bilbies (Marsupialia: Peramelemorphia)

Taylor, M.C., Travouillon, K.J., Andrew, M.E., Fleming, P.A.ORCID: 0000-0002-0626-3851, Warburton, N.M.ORCID: 0000-0002-8498-3053 and Jia, Z.-Y. (2021) Keeping an ear out: Size relationship of the tympanic bullae and pinnae in bandicoots and bilbies (Marsupialia: Peramelemorphia). Current Zoology, In Press . zoab055.

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Bandicoots and bilbies (Order Peramelemorphia) occupy a broad range of habitats across Australia and New Guinea, from open, arid deserts to dense forests. This once diverse group has been particularly vulnerable to habitat loss and introduced eutherian predators, and numerous species extinctions and range retractions have occurred. Understanding reasons for this loss requires greater understanding of their biology. Morphology of the pinnae and tympanic bullae varies markedly among species. As hearing is important for both predator avoidance and prey location, the variability in ear morphology could reflect specialization and adaptation to specific environments, and therefore be of conservation relevance. We measured 798 museum specimens representing 29 species of Peramelemorphia. Controlling for phylogenetic relatedness and head length, pinna surface area was weakly negatively correlated with average precipitation (rainfall being our surrogate measure of vegetation productivity/complexity), and there were no environmental correlates with effective diameter (pinna width). Controlling for phylogenetic relatedness and skull length, tympanic bulla volume was negatively correlated with precipitation. Species that inhabited drier habitats, which would be open and allow sound to carry further with less obstruction, had relatively larger pinnae and tympanic bullae. In contrast, species from higher rainfall habitats, where sounds would be attenuated and diffused by dense vegetation, had the smallest pinnae and bullae, suggesting that low-frequency hearing is not as important in these habitats. Associations with temperature did not reach statistical significance. These findings highlight linkages between hearing traits and habitat that can inform conservation and management strategies for threatened species.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Harry Butler Institute
Centre for Terrestrial Ecosystem Science and Sustainability
Publisher: Oxford University Press on behalf of Editorial Office, Current Zoology
Copyright: © The Author(s) (2021)
United Nations SDGs: Goal 15: Life on Land
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