Inherent Directionality Determines Spatial Release from Masking at the Tympanum in a Vertebrate with Internally Coupled Ears

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In contrast to humans and other mammals, many animals have internally coupled ears that function as inherently directional pressure-gradient receivers. Two important but unanswered questions are to what extent and how do animals with such ears exploit spatial cues in the perceptual analysis of noisy and complex acoustic scenes? This study of Cope’s gray treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis) investigated how the inherent directionality of internally coupled ears contributes to spatial release from masking. We used laser vibrometry and signal detection theory to determine the threshold signal-to-noise ratio at which the tympanum’s response to vocalizations could be reliably detected in noise. Thresholds were determined as a function of signal location, noise location, and signal-noise separation. Vocalizations were broadcast from one of three azimuthal locations: frontal (0 °), to the right (+90 °), and to the left (−90 °). Masking noise was broadcast from each of 12 azimuthal angles around the frog (0 to 330 °, 30 ° separation). Variation in the position of the noise source resulted in, on average, 4 dB of spatial release from masking relative to co-located conditions. However, detection thresholds could be up to 9 dB lower in the “best ear for listening” compared to the other ear. The pattern and magnitude of spatial release from masking were well predicted by the tympanum’s inherent directionality. We discuss how the magnitude of masking release observed in the tympanum’s response to spatially separated signals and noise relates to that observed in previous behavioral and neurophysiological studies of frog hearing and communication.


Original version available from the publisher at: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10162-016-0568-6

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