An electrophysiological method for making long-term recordings from the tympanal nerve was developed in Chorthippus biguttulus (Gomphocerinae) to gain insight into the ecophysiological constraints of sound localization in acridid grasshoppers. Using this ‘biological microphone’, the directional dependence of auditory nerve activity was monitored both in the laboratory and in various natural habitats of this species. On gravel and in sparse vegetation, the overall patterns of directionality were found to be very similar to those in the free sound field in the laboratory, regardless of whether the animal was positioned horizontally or vertically. However, the differences between the ipsi- and contralateral sides were smaller in these habitats than in the laboratory. In dense vegetation, the directional patterns were greatly affected by the environment. Moreover, a minimum in nerve activity was not always reached on the contralateral side, as is typical for the free sound field situation. On the basis of these data, predictions can be made about the ability of the animals to determine the correct side of a sound source. In the free sound field of the laboratory, correct lateralizations are expected at all angles of sound incidence between 20 and 160 degrees, a prediction corresponding to the results of behavioural studies. In sparse vegetation, a similar accuracy can be anticipated, whereas on gravel and in dense vegetation directional hearing is expected to be severely degraded, especially if the animal is oriented horizontally. The predictions from our present electrophysiological investigations must now be confirmed by behavioural studies in the field.

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