Condition-dependent auditory processing in the round goby (Neogobius melanostomus): links to sex, reproductive condition and female estrogen levels
Neural responses to sensory stimuli often differ between sexes, vary seasonally, and can be regulated by endocrine activity, but the ecological and physiological mechanisms driving such patterns are not well understood. The current study examined how auditory function in the round goby (Neogobius melanostomus), a vocal teleost, co-varied with sex, reproductive condition and female plasma 17β-estradiol level. Auditory evoked potentials were collected in response to tone pips (100–600Hz) and a natural round goby pulse vocalization. Additionally, saccule hair cell densities were compared across reproductive groups. Auditory threshold was evaluated in terms of pressure and particle acceleration, and response amplitude and onset latency were measured at 10dB above threshold. Relative to males, females displayed lower auditory thresholds in response to the natural vocalization and to tones at 300–600Hz, and had a higher density of saccule hair cells. The 17β-estradiol level was positively associated with amplitude and latency for the pulse stimulus and with both threshold and amplitude for tones at 100–200Hz in females. Relative to non-reproductive males, reproductive males exhibited longer response latencies at 100–200Hz. The results demonstrate sexual dimorphism in auditory function in a teleost fish as well as intra-sexual variation, partially based on hormone levels. The current research further identifies links between auditory function and reproductive behaviors in fishes and provides a finer-scaled analysis of how this behavior is reflected at the level of the sensory systems facilitating signal reception.