1 Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, SDU2 Faculty of Science, SDU3 School of Medicine, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 474054 Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, SDU
The middle ears of birds are acoustically connected through an air-filled pathway, the interaural canal (IAC), which allows sound to propagate internally from one ear to the other and considerably enhance the cues for directional hearing. The enhancement of the directional cues depends on the amplitude gain and time delay through IAC. Theoretically, different combinations of frequency dependent gains and delays produce very different directionalities of the ears but it is still uncertain how gain and delay can be shaped by evolution. We have discovered that a large forehead sinus superoanterior to the orbits (superoantero-orbital sinus, SAOS) connects to the IAC via a tube inferomedial to the orbits (IMT). SAOS has a very complex shape with connections through an arc over the eye to the bullae of each ear and also to two smaller lateral sinuses in front of each eye. The contribution of this structure to auditory sensitivity has not been studied previously. We hypothesized that the extra air volume could form a resonator influencing the gain and delay of IAC. We tested the hypothesis by measuring sound transmission through IAC of zebra finches before and after filling the SAOS with a silicone impression medium. Six out of seven individuals showed an effect of filling the SAOS or the IMT on directionality and overall auditory sensitivity. The SAOS therefore does seem to have an effect on gain and delay in the interaural canal as well as on auditory sensitivity. The effect, however, was complex and either significantly changed the gain by up to 10 dB in the frequency range below about 2-3 kHz and/or in a narrow band around 4-6 kHz. Although we verified the fillings by post-experimental dissection, it was difficult to determine exactly to what degree the different components were filled. Thus differential filling and/or blockage of the complex system may be the reason for complexity of the results. Future experiments aim for better control of the cavity filling.