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Fine Structure Of The Basilar Papilla Of The Emu: Implications For The Evolution

Of Avian Hair-Cell Types

C Koppl; O Gleich; G Schwabedissen; E Siegl; GA Manley

Institut fur Zoologie der Technischen

Universit at M unchen, Garching, Germany

12 1998 Dec

 

The morphology of the basilar papilla of the emu was investigated quantitatively with light and scanning electron microscopical techniques. The emu is a member of the Paleognathae, a group of flightless birds that represent the most primitive living avian species. The comparison of the emu papilla with that of other, more advanced birds provides insights into the evolution of the avian papilla. The morphology of the emu papilla is that of an unspecialised bird, but shows the full range of features previously shown to be typical for the avian basilar papilla. For example, the orientation of the hair cells' sensitive axes varied in characteristic fashion both along and across the papilla. Many of the quantitative details correlate well with the representation of predominantly low frequencies along the papilla. The most distinctive features were an unusually high density of hair cells and an unusual tallness of the hair- cell bodies. This suggests that the evolution of morphologically very short hair cells, which are a hallmark of avian papillae, is a recent development in evolution. The small degree of differentiation in hair-cell size contrasts with the observation that a significant number of hair cells in the emu lack afferent innervation. It is therefore suggested that the development of functionally different hair-cell types in birds preceded the differentiation into morphologically tall and short hair cells.