Indexed on: 25 Dec '12Published on: 25 Dec '12Published in: The Journal of experimental biology
In the underwater environment, sound propagates both as a pressure wave and as particle displacement, with particle displacement dominating close to the source (the nearfield). At the receptor level, both the fish ear and the neuromast hair cells act as displacement detectors and both are potentially stimulated by the particle motion component of sound sources, especially in the nearfield. A now common way to test 'hearing' in fish involves auditory evoked potentials (AEPs), with recordings made from electrodes implanted near the auditory brainstem. These AEP recordings are typically conducted in enclosed acoustic environments with the fish well within the nearfield, especially for lower frequencies. We tested the contribution of neuromast hair cells to AEP by first testing intact goldfish (Carassius auratus), then ablating their neuromasts with streptomycin sulphate--disabling superficial and canal neuromasts--and retesting the same goldfish. We performed a similar experiment where only the superficial neuromasts were physically ablated. At 100 and 200 Hz, there was a 10-15 dB increase in threshold after streptomycin treatment but no significant difference at higher frequencies. There was no difference in threshold in control fish or in fish that only had superficial neuromasts removed, indicating that the differential responses were driven by canal neuromasts. Taken together, these results indicate that AEP results at lower frequencies should be interpreted as multimodal responses, rather than as 'hearing'. The results also suggest that in natural situations both the ear and lateral line likely play an integrative role in detecting and localising many types of 'acoustic' stimuli.