What Do Primates Hear? A Meta-analysis of All Known Nonhuman Primate Behavioral Audiograms
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- Coleman, M.N. Int J Primatol (2009) 30: 55. doi:10.1007/s10764-008-9330-1
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Research on the hearing abilities of nonhuman primates dates back >70 yr and there are audiograms —graphs showing hearing sensitivity over a range of frequencies— for 29 different species including representatives from almost every major group. However, the methods used to obtain the audiograms have been nearly as varied as the number of species tested. I sought to determine the degree to which one can directly compare the audiograms by examining several factors that could have a significant impact on the results: the behavioral conditioning procedure employed to train and test the subjects, the type of transducer used to deliver the test tones, the procedure used to calibrate the amplitude of the test tones, the acoustic enclosure used to minimize ambient noise, and the method used to determine the final threshold values. Audiograms produced using speakers cannot be compared directly with those produced using headphones, and in some cases the calibration procedure and testing chamber may also limit the potential for interspecific comparisons. Based on the findings, I provide 2 lists of optimal primate audiograms: 1 for speaker-derived audiograms and the other for headphone-derived audiograms. I measured a set of audiometric variables on each of the optimal audiograms, and phylogenetic comparisons of the data show that superfamilies of primates display unique patterns of hearing sensitivity, particularly at frequencies in the lower range. Lastly, I discuss the implications for behavioralists investigating primate vocalizations in the field.