Springer Online Journal Archives 1860-2000
Summary The acoustical properties of the external ear of the barn owl (Tyto alba) were studied by measuring sound pressure in the ear canal and outer ear cavity. Under normal conditions, pressure amplification by the external ear reaches about 20 dB between 3–9 kHz but decreases sharply above 10 kHz. The acoustic gain curve of the outer ear cavity alone is close to that of a finite-length exponential horn between 1.2–13 kHz with maximum gain reaching 20 dB between 5–9 kHz. Pressure gain by the facial ruff produces a maximum of 12 dB between 5–8 kHz and decreases rapidly above 9 kHz. The directional sensitivity of the external ear was obtained from pressure measurements in the ear canal. Directivity of the major lobe is explained, to a first approximation, by the sound diffraction properties of a circular aperture. Aperture size is based on the average radius (30 mm) of the open face of the ruff. Above 5 kHz, the external ear becomes highly directional and there is a 26° disparity in elevation between the acoustic axis of the left and right ear. In azimuth, directivity patterns are relocated closer to the midline as frequency increases and the acoustic axis moves at a rate of 20°/octave between 2–13 kHz. Movement of the axis can be explained, to a first approximation, by the acoustical diffraction properties of an obliquely truncated horn, due to the asymmetrical shape of the outer ear cavity. The directional sensitivity of the barn owl ear was studied by recording cochlear microphonic (CM) potentials from the round window membrane. Between 3–9 kHz, CM directivity patterns are clearly different to the directivity patterns of the external ear; CM directionality is abruptly lost above 10 kHz. Above 5 kHz, CM directivity patterns are characterized by an elongated major lobe containing the CM axis, forming a tilted band of high amplitude but low directionality (CM axial plane), closely bordered by minima or nulls. The highest directionality is found in theCM directional plane, approximately perpendicular to the CM axial plane. The left and right ear axial planes are symmetrical about the interaural midline (tilted 12° to the right of the midline of the head) and inclined by an average of 60° to the left and right respectively. In azimuth, the CM axis moves towards the midline at a rate of 37°/octave as frequency increases from 2–9 kHz, crossing into contralateral space near 7 kHz. In the CM directional plane, the directivity of the major lobe suggests that a pressure gradient may occur at the TM. The region of frontal space mapped by movement of the CM axis in azimuth closely matches the angle of sound incidence which would be expected to produce the maximum driving pressure at the TM. It is suggested that acoustical interference at the TM results from sound transmission through the interaural canal and therefore the ear is inherently directional. It is proposed that ear directionality in the barn owl may be explained by the combined effect of sound diffraction by the outer ear cavity and a pressure gradient at the TM.
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