Acoustic communication in butterflyfishes: Anatomical novelties, physiology, evolution, and behavioral ecology

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Coral reef fishes live in noisy environments that may challenge their capacity for acoustic communication. Butterflyfishes (Family Chaetodontidae) are prominent and ecologically diverse members of coral reef communities worldwide. The discovery of a novel association of anterior swim bladder horns with the lateral line canal system in the genus Chaetodon (the laterophysic connection) revealed a putative adaptation for enhancement of sound reception by the lateral line system and/or the ear. Behavioral studies show that acoustic communication is an important component of butterflyfish social behavior. All bannerfish (Forcipiger, Heniochus, and Hemitaurichthys) and Chaetodon species studied thus far produce several sound types at frequencies of <1 to >1000 Hz. Ancestral character state analyses predict the existence of both shared (head bob) and divergent (tail slap) acoustic behaviors in these two clades. Experimental auditory physiology shows that butterflyfishes are primarily sensitive to stimuli associated with hydrodynamic particle accelerations of ≤500 Hz. In addition, the gas-filled swim bladder horns in Chaetodon are stimulated by sound pressure, which enhances and extends their auditory sensitivity to 1700–2000 Hz. The broadband spectrum of ambient noise present on coral reefs overlaps with the frequency characteristics of their sounds, thus both the close social affiliations common among butterflyfishes and the evolution of the swim bladder horns in Chaetodon facilitate their short-range acoustic communication. Butterflyfishes provide a unique and unexpected opportunity to carry out studies of fish bioacoustics in the lab and the field that integrate the study of sensory anatomy, physiology, evolution, and behavioral ecology.

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Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology