Review of sensory modalities of sirenians and the other extant Paenungulata clade

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afrotheria, elephants, hyrax, manatees


Extant members of Paenungulata (sirenians, proboscideans, and hyracoideans) form a monophyletic clade which originated in Africa. While paenungulates are all herbivorous, they differ greatly in size, life history, and habitat. Therefore, we would expect both phylogenetically related similarities and ecologically driven differences in their use and specializations of sensory systems, especially in adaptations in sirenians related to their fully aquatic habitat. Here we review what is known about the sensory modalities of this clade in an attempt to better elucidate their sensory adaptations. Manatees have a higher frequency range for hearing than elephants, who have the best low-frequency hearing range known to mammals, while the hearing range of hyraxes is unknown. All paenungulates have vibrissae assisting in tactile abilities such as feeding and navigating the environment and share relatively small eyes and dichromatic vision. Taste buds are present in varying quantities in all three orders. While the olfactory abilities of manatees and hyraxes are unknown, elephants have an excellent sense of smell which is reflected by having the relatively largest cranial nerve related to olfaction among the three lineages. Manatees have the relatively largest trigeminal nerve—the nerve responsible for, among other things, mystacial vibrissae—while hyraxes have the relatively largest optic nerve (and therefore, presumably, the best vision) among the Paenungulata. All three orders have diverged significantly; however, they still retain some anatomical and physiological adaptations in common with regard to sensory abilities.

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Anatomical Record



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