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Open Access Research

Diversity of acoustic tracheal system and its role for directional hearing in crickets

Arne KD Schmidt* and Heiner Römer

Author Affiliations

Department of Zoology, Karl-Franzens-University, Universiteatsplatz 2, Graz 8010, Austria

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Frontiers in Zoology 2013, 10:61  doi:10.1186/1742-9994-10-61

Published: 17 October 2013

Abstract

Background

Sound localization in small insects can be a challenging task due to physical constraints in deriving sufficiently large interaural intensity differences (IIDs) between both ears. In crickets, sound source localization is achieved by a complex type of pressure difference receiver consisting of four potential sound inputs. Sound acts on the external side of two tympana but additionally reaches the internal tympanal surface via two external sound entrances. Conduction of internal sound is realized by the anatomical arrangement of connecting trachea. A key structure is a trachea coupling both ears which is characterized by an enlarged part in its midline (i.e., the acoustic vesicle) accompanied with a thin membrane (septum). This facilitates directional sensitivity despite an unfavorable relationship between wavelength of sound and body size. Here we studied the morphological differences of the acoustic tracheal system in 40 cricket species (Gryllidae, Mogoplistidae) and species of outgroup taxa (Gryllotalpidae, Rhaphidophoridae, Gryllacrididae) of the suborder Ensifera comprising hearing and non hearing species.

Results

We found a surprisingly high variation of acoustic tracheal systems and almost all investigated species using intraspecific acoustic communication were characterized by an acoustic vesicle associated with a medial septum. The relative size of the acoustic vesicle - a structure most crucial for deriving high IIDs - implies an important role for sound localization. Most remarkable in this respect was the size difference of the acoustic vesicle between species; those with a more unfavorable ratio of body size to sound wavelength tend to exhibit a larger acoustic vesicle. On the other hand, secondary loss of acoustic signaling was nearly exclusively associated with the absence of both acoustic vesicle and septum.

Conclusion

The high diversity of acoustic tracheal morphology observed between species might reflect different steps in the evolution of the pressure difference receiver; with a precursor structure already present in ancestral non-hearing species. In addition, morphological transitions of the acoustic vesicle suggest a possible adaptive role for the generation of binaural directional cues.

Keywords:
Directional hearing; Cricket; Acoustic tracheal system; Sound localization; Interaural intensity difference (IID); Pressure difference receiver