Study finds first example of auditory regression in a subterranean organism

Mar 28, 2013 by Bob Yirka report
Study finds first example of auditory regression in a subterranean organism
Typhlichthys subterraneus. Credit: Dante Fenolio, doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2013.0104

(Phys.org) —A team of researchers made up of members from the U.S. and Canada has found that two species of fish that live in caves in the eastern and central parts of the United States have suffered hearing regression as a result of their environment—the first such example ever found. In their paper published in the journal Biology Letters, the group describes how they compared two species of cave dwelling fish with a close cousin that lives in a surface lake, and found that the subterranean dwellers had lost the ability to hear some high frequency sounds.

Vision regression is common in that live in environments with limited light—there is no biological advantage if they can't see anything anyway. Hearing regression, on the other hand, has not been studied very well. In this new effort, the researchers could find only one study that had been undertaken to find out if it even occurs. In that effort, the research team had found no differences in hearing abilities between the Mexican tetra and a type of Molly, compared to their surface lake cousins.

To find out more, the researchers chose to study Amblyopsis spelaea and Typhlichthys subterraneus—blind fish that live in caves in Kentucky. They collected live samples of both, along with samples of Forbesichthys agassizii, a close cousin that lives in lakes in Tennessee.

To test the hearing abilities of the fish, the researchers used brain scanners to note neural reaction to sounds being heard. The found that at —up to 800 hertz—all three of the fish species could hear equally well. At higher frequencies, however, they found that the cave fish were virtually deaf compared to the surface fish. The researchers also found that the had just two-thirds as many in their ears as the surface fish.

To find out why the cave dwelling fish might have lost hearing in such a specific range, the researchers ventured into the caves where they lived and monitored sound levels. They note that caves are much noisier places than most would expect, with running water and constant dripping—they found that the dominant sounds in the caves fell in the range that the that lived there could not hear. As with vision regression, there is no biological advantage to having a sense that doesn't work at a certain range.

The researchers note that previous studies have shown that some subterranean have developed a sixth sense—an ability to detect water currents with their skin—as an adaption to their unique environments. That they say, could help them overcome both vision and hearing regression, helping them to survive in their dark and noisy environment.

Explore further: Warning coloration paved the way for louder, more complex calls in certain species of poisonous frogs

More information: Evidence for hearing loss in amblyopsid cavefishes, Biology Letters, Published 27 March 2013 doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2013.0104

Abstract
The constant darkness of caves and other subterranean habitats imposes sensory constraints that offer a unique opportunity to examine evolution of sensory modalities. Hearing in cavefishes has not been well explored, and here we show that cavefishes in the family Amblyopsidae are not only blind but have also lost a significant portion of their hearing range. Our results showed that cave and surface amblyopsids shared the same audiogram profile at low frequencies but only surface amblyopsids were able to hear frequencies higher than 800 Hz and up to 2 kHz. We measured ambient noise in aquatic cave and surface habitats and found high intensity peaks near 1 kHz for streams underground, suggesting no adaptive advantage in hearing in those frequencies. In addition, cave amblyopsids had lower hair cell densities compared with their surface relative. These traits may have evolved in response to the loud high-frequency background noise found in subterranean pools and streams. This study represents the first report of auditory regression in a subterranean organism.

Related Stories

Darkness stifles reproduction of surface-dwelling fish

May 11, 2011

There's a reason to be afraid of the dark. Fish accustomed to living near the light of the water's surface become proverbial "fish out of water" when they move to dark environments like those found in caves, ...

Hybridization partially restores vision in cavefish

Jan 07, 2008

Hybridizing blind cave fish from different cave populations can partially restore the vision of their offspring, biologists at New York University have found. The study suggests that genetic engineering can override, at least ...

World's first eyeless huntsman spider discovered

Aug 09, 2012

A scientist from the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt has discovered the first eyeless huntsman spider in the world. The accompanying study has been published by the scientific journal Zootaxa.

Recommended for you

Cat dentals fill you with dread?

Oct 24, 2014

A survey published this year found that over 50% of final year veterinary students in the UK do not feel confident either in discussing orodental problems with clients or in performing a detailed examination of the oral cavity ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

julianpenrod
1 / 5 (2) Mar 28, 2013
In fact, the idea of the "adaptation" of animals to cave environments displays major flaws in the basic idea of "evolution". It's easy enough to say that losing eyesight and color is "reasonable" because they don't provide a survival advantage in pellucid regions. But that's not what runs "evolution". The "evolution" promoted by "science" is run primarily not by gaining what gives a survival advantage, but by losing why imparts a survival disadvantage. Not having an advantage can be worked around, actually having a disadvantage actively works against a creature. But what disadvantage is there in a cave environment to have eyes and color? What impulse would there be to lose them? Yes, a breed of fish may arise without eyes or color and be able to survive well there, but those with eyes and color should also be able to live there! If fish with eyes and color couldn't then they wouldn't be able to survive long enough to lose them!
C_elegans
5 / 5 (1) Mar 29, 2013
Well, having eyes will leave you prone to eye-infections. If your eyes aren't doing anything, get rid of them! Use those proteins for new sensory systems. Cavefish have certainly gained other traits that we have not yet assayed for - scent? water pressure changes? These skills would be more useful than eyes in a cave.

Rather than telling stories about physorg, maybe we should go and actually study science? Then we could actually review all of these "assumptions" and "feelings" that apenrod has.
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (2) Mar 29, 2013
Any tendency of having eyes making you prone to eye infection doesn't seem to have made animals that live in lighted environments go extinct. Eye infections, for that matter, aren't such a survival disadvantage. And note C_elegans' casual declaration that cave living fish have gained other senses even though they haven't been "assayed for". That is not necessarily a "scientific" methodology to insist that something must exist even though it hasn't been proved. But, still, too, that doesn't answer the issue that there is no survival disadvantage in eyes or coloration strong enough to cause "evolution" to remove it from pellucid creatures.