Variation within the bony labyrinth of mammals



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The morphological diversity of the external and internal surfaces of the petrosal bone, which contains the structures of the inner ear, across a broad range of therian mammals is documented, and patterns of variation across taxa are identified. One pattern of variation is the result of ontogenetic changes in the ear region, as described for the external surface morphology of a sample of isolated petrosal bones referred to Proboscidea from Pleistocene deposits in central Texas. The morphology of the aquaeductus Fallopii for passage of the greater petrosal branch of the facial nerve supports an ontogenetic explanation for some variation within the proboscidean sample, and a sequence of ossification surrounding the aquaeductus Fallopii is hypothesized. Further ontogenetic patterns are investigated using digital endocasts of the bony labyrinth (preserved on the internal surfaces of the petrosal) constructed from CT data across a growth series of the opossum Monodelphis domestica. Strong correlation between skull length and age is found, but from 27 days after birth onward, there is no correlation with age among most dimensions of the inner ear. Adult dimensions of several of the inner ear structures are achieved before the inner ear is functional in M. domestica. Morphological variation within the inner ear of several eutherian mammals from the Cretaceous of Asia, including zhelestids from the Bissekty Formation of Uzbekistan, is described. The variation within the fossil sample is compared to that observed within extant species of placental mammals, and it is determined that the amount of variation within the Bissekty zhelestid population is within the range of that measured for extant species. Additional evolutionary and physiological patterns preserved within the walls of the bony labyrinth are identified through a high level anatomical comparison of the inner ear cavities across Placentalia as a whole. In particular, features of the inner ear support monophyly of Cetacea, Carnivora, Primatomorpha, and caviomorph Rodentia. The volumetric percentage of the vestibular apparatus (vestibule plus semicircular canals) of aquatic mammals is smaller than that calculated for terrestrial relatives of comparable body size. Thus, aspects of the bony labyrinth are both phylogenetically and physiologically informative.