• Convergent evolution in toothed whale cochleae

      Park, Travis; Mennecart, B; Costeur, L; Grohé, C; Cooper, N (Springer Science and Business Media LLC, 2019-10-24)
      Background Odontocetes (toothed whales) are the most species-rich marine mammal lineage. The catalyst for their evolutionary success is echolocation - a form of biological sonar that uses high-frequency sound, produced in the forehead and ultimately detected by the cochlea. The ubiquity of echolocation in odontocetes across a wide range of physical and acoustic environments suggests that convergent evolution of cochlear shape is likely to have occurred. To test this, we used SURFACE; a method that fits Ornstein-Uhlenbeck (OU) models with stepwise AIC (Akaike Information Criterion) to identify convergent regimes on the odontocete phylogeny, and then tested whether convergence in these regimes was significantly greater than expected by chance. Results We identified three convergent regimes: (1) True’s (Mesoplodon mirus) and Cuvier’s (Ziphius cavirostris) beaked whales; (2) sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) and all other beaked whales sampled; and (3) pygmy (Kogia breviceps) and dwarf (Kogia sima) sperm whales and Dall’s porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli). Interestingly the ‘river dolphins’, a group notorious for their convergent morphologies and riverine ecologies, do not have convergent cochlear shapes. The first two regimes were significantly convergent, with habitat type and dive type significantly correlated with membership of the sperm whale + beaked whale regime. Conclusions The extreme acoustic environment of the deep ocean likely constrains cochlear shape, causing the cochlear morphology of sperm and beaked whales to converge. This study adds support for cochlear morphology being used to predict the ecology of extinct cetaceans.