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Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 199, Issue 12, pp 1077–1092 | Cite as

Exploring the mammalian sensory space: co-operations and trade-offs among senses

  • Sirpa Nummela
  • Henry Pihlström
  • Kai Puolamäki
  • Mikael Fortelius
  • Simo Hemilä
  • Tom Reuter
Original Paper

Abstract

The evolution of a particular sensory organ is often discussed with no consideration of the roles played by other senses. Here, we treat mammalian vision, olfaction and hearing as an interconnected whole, a three-dimensional sensory space, evolving in response to ecological challenges. Until now, there has been no quantitative method for estimating how much a particular animal invests in its different senses. We propose an anatomical measure based on sensory organ sizes. Dimensions of functional importance are defined and measured, and normalized in relation to animal mass. For 119 taxonomically and ecologically diverse species, we can define the position of the species in a three-dimensional sensory space. Thus, we can ask questions related to possible trade-off vs. co-operation among senses. More generally, our method allows morphologists to identify sensory organ combinations that are characteristic of particular ecological niches. After normalization for animal size, we note that arboreal mammals tend to have larger eyes and smaller noses than terrestrial mammals. On the other hand, we observe a strong correlation between eyes and ears, indicating that co-operation between vision and hearing is a general mammalian feature. For some groups of mammals we note a correlation, and possible co-operation between olfaction and whiskers.

Keywords

Sensory ecology Vision Olfaction Hearing Vibrissae 

Notes

Acknowledgments

For access to scientific collections we thank: Hans J. Baagøe, Mogens Andersen, and Abdi Hedayat (Natural History Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen), Per Ericson and Olavi Grönwall (Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm), Gerhard Storch (Senckenberg Research Institute, Frankfurt), and Ilpo K. Hanski and Martti Hildén (Finnish Museum of Natural History, Helsinki). We are grateful to Kristian Donner and Lotta Sundström for constructive criticism and valuable suggestions on earlier versions of this manuscript. We thank the handling editor Günther Zupanc, and three anonymous reviewers for help and advice with this manuscript. This project was supported by the Academy of Finland (SN, MF), Ella and Georg Ehrnrooth Foundation (HP), Oskar Öflund Foundation (HP), ALGODAN (KP), and the Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters (TR).

Supplementary material

359_2013_846_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (144 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 143 kb)

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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sirpa Nummela
    • 1
  • Henry Pihlström
    • 1
  • Kai Puolamäki
    • 2
  • Mikael Fortelius
    • 3
  • Simo Hemilä
    • 1
  • Tom Reuter
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiosciencesUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland
  2. 2.Department of Information and Computer ScienceAaltoFinland
  3. 3.Department of Geosciences and GeographyUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland

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