• Hearing sensitivity in context: Conservation implications for a highly vocal endangered species

      Owen, Megan A.; Keating, Jennifer L.; Denes, Samuel K.; Hawk, Kathy; Fiore, Angela; Thatcher, Julie; Becerra, Jennifer; Hall, Suzanne; Swaisgood, Ronald R. (2016)
      Hearing sensitivity is a fundamental determinant of a species’ vulnerability to anthropogenic noise, however little is known about the hearing capacities of most conservation dependent species. When audiometric data are integrated with other aspects of species’ acoustic ecology, life history, and characteristic habitat topography and soundscape, predictions can be made regarding probable vulnerability to the negative impacts of different types of anthropogenic noise. Here we used an adaptive psychoacoustic technique to measure hearing thresholds in the endangered giant panda; a species that uses acoustic communication to coordinate reproduction. Our results suggest that giant pandas have functional hearing into the ultrasonic range, with good sensitivity between 10.0 and 16.0 kHz, and best sensitivity measured at 12.5–14.0 kHz. We estimated the lower and upper limits of functional hearing as 0.10 and 70.0 kHz respectively. While these results suggest that panda hearing is similar to that of some other terrestrial carnivores, panda hearing thresholds above 14.0 kHz were significantly lower (i.e., more sensitive) than those of the polar bear, the only other bear species for which data are available. We discuss the implications of this divergence, as well as the relationship between hearing sensitivity and the spectral parameters of panda vocalizations. We suggest that these data, placed in context, can be used towards the development of a sensory-based model of noise disturbance for the species.