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Schulz-Mirbach, Tanja; Hess, Martin and Plath, Martin (2011): Inner ear morphology in the Atlantic molly Poecilia mexicana. First detailed microanatomical study of the inner ear of a cyprinodontiform species.
In: PLOS ONE 6(11), e27734 [PDF, 6MB]

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Fishes show an amazing diversity in hearing abilities, inner ear structures, and otolith morphology. Inner ear morphology, however, has not yet been investigated in detail in any member of the diverse order Cyprinodontiformes. We, therefore, studied the inner ear of the cyprinodontiform freshwater fish Poecilia mexicana by analyzing the position of otoliths in situ, investigating the 3D structure of sensory epithelia, and examining the orientation patterns of ciliary bundles of the sensory hair cells, while combining μ-CT analyses, scanning electron microscopy, and immunocytochemical methods. P. mexicana occurs in different ecotypes, enabling us to study the intra-specific variability (on a qualitative basis) of fish from regular surface streams, and the Cueva del Azufre, a sulfidic cave in southern Mexico. The inner ear of Poecilia mexicana displays a combination of several remarkable features. The utricle is connected rostrally instead of dorso-rostrally to the saccule, and the macula sacculi, therefore, is very close to the utricle. Moreover, the macula sacculi possesses dorsal and ventral bulges. The two studied ecotypes of P. mexicana showed variation mainly in the shape and curvature of the macula lagenae, in the curvature of the macula sacculi, and in the thickness of the otolithic membrane. Our study for the first time provides detailed insights into the auditory periphery of a cyprinodontiform inner ear and thus serves a basis--especially with regard to the application of 3D techniques--for further research on structure-function relationships of inner ears within the species-rich order Cyprinodontiformes. We suggest that other poeciliid taxa, or even other non-poeciliid cyprinodontiforms, may display similar inner ear morphologies as described here.

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