The tectorial membrane (TM) is widely believed to play an important role in determining the ear's ability to detect and resolve incoming acoustic information. While it is still unclear precisely what that role is, the TM has been hypothesized to help overcome viscous forces and thereby sharpen mechanical tuning of the sensory cells. Lizards present a unique opportunity to further study the role of the TM given the diverse inner-ear morphological differences across species. Furthermore, stimulus-frequency otoacoustic emissions (SFOAEs), sounds emitted by the ear in response to a tone, noninvasively probe the frequency selectivity of the ear. We report estimates of auditory tuning derived from SFOAEs for 12 different species of lizards with widely varying TM morphology. Despite gross anatomical differences across the species examined herein, low-level SFOAEs were readily measurable in all ears tested, even in non-TM species whose basilar papilla contained as few as 50-60 hair cells. Our measurements generally support theoretical predictions: longer delays/sharper tuning features are found in species with a TM relative to those without. However, SFOAEs from at least one non-TM species (Anolis) with long delays suggest there are likely additional micromechanical factors at play that can directly affect tuning. Additionally, in the one species examined with a continuous TM (Aspidoscelis) where cell-to-cell coupling is presumably relatively stronger, delays were intermediate. This observation appears consistent with recent reports that suggest the TM may play a more complex macromechanical role in the mammalian cochlea via longitudinal energy distribution (and thereby affect tuning). Although significant differences exist between reptilian and mammalian auditory biophysics, understanding lizard OAE generation mechanisms yields significant insight into fundamental principles at work in all vertebrate ears.
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