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Listening to the environment : hearing differences from an epigenetic effect in solitarious and gregarious locusts

Gordon, Shira and Jackson, Joseph and Rogers, Stephen and Windmill, James (2014) Listening to the environment : hearing differences from an epigenetic effect in solitarious and gregarious locusts. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 281 (1795). ISSN 0962-8452

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Abstract

Locusts display a striking form of phenotypic plasticity, developing into either a lone-living solitarious phase or a swarming gregarious phase depending on population density. The two phases differ extensively in appearance, behaviour, and physiology. We found that solitarious and gregarious locusts have clear differences in their hearing, both in their tympanal and neuronal responses. We identified significant differences in the shape of the tympana that may be responsible for the variations in hearing between locust phases. We measured the nanometre mechanical responses of the ear’s tympanal membrane to sound, finding that solitarious animals exhibit greater displacement. Finally, neural experiments signified that solitarious locusts have a relatively stronger response to high frequencies. The enhanced response to high frequency sounds in the nocturnally flying solitarious locusts suggests greater investment in detecting the ultrasonic echolocation calls of bats, to which they are more vulnerable than diurnally active gregarious locusts. This study highlights the importance of epigenetic effects set forth during development and begins to identify how animals are equipped to match their immediate environmental needs.