Modeling inspiratory and expiratory steady-state velocity fields in the Sprague-Dawley rat nasal cavity.
The morphology of the nasal cavity in mammals with a good sense of smell includes features that are thought to improve olfactory airflow, such as a dorsal conduit that delivers odours quickly to the olfactory mucosa, an enlarged olfactory recess at the back of the airway, and a clear separation of the olfactory and respiratory regions of the nose. The link between these features and having a good sense of smell has been established by functional examinations of a handful of distantly related mammalian species. In this paper, we provide the first detailed examination of olfactory airflow in a group of closely related species that nevertheless vary in their sense of smell. We study six species of phyllostomid bats that have different airway morphologies and foraging ecologies, which have been linked to differences in olfactory ability or reliance. We hypothesize that differences in morphology correlate with differences in the patterns and rates of airflow, which in turn are consistent with dietary differences. To compare species, we make qualitative and quantitative comparisons of the patterns and rates of airflow through the olfactory region during both inhalation and exhalation across the six species. Contrary to our expectations, we find no clear differences among species in either the patterns of airflow through the airway or in rates of flow through the olfactory region. By and large, olfactory airflow seems to be conserved across species, suggesting that morphological differences appear to be driven by other mechanical demands on the snout, such as breathing and feeding. Olfactory ability may depend on other aspects of the system, such as the neurobiological processing of odours that work within the existing morphology imposed by other functional demands on the nasal cavity.