Gray tree frogs, Hyla versicolor, give lower-frequency aggressive calls in more escalated contests

Abstract

As animal contests escalate, variation in the performance of aggressive signaling behaviors can give important insights into contest dynamics. In anuran amphibians, males of numerous species utilize distinctive aggressive vocalizations during disputes over calling spaces. Little is known, however, about the causes and consequences of variation in aggressive-call characteristics. We analyzed recordings of calls made during staged aggressive interactions between male gray tree frogs, Hyla versicolor, to determine how variation in a key aggressive-call characteristic, dominant frequency, was affected by increasing contest escalation. We found that dominant frequencies of aggressive calls were lower than those of advertisement calls used to attract females. Furthermore, we found that males lowered their aggressive-call frequencies with increases in escalation. Winners tended to have lower-frequency aggressive calls than losers. We conclude that aggressive calls in H. versicolor are similar to the graded aggressive calls that have been described in several other species. This gradation may allow males to balance the energetic costs of producing lower-frequency calls with the benefits of efficiently repelling rival males. Other processes related to motivation and the physiological effects of participating in contests may also be responsible for the observed variation in aggressive-call frequency with contest escalation. Our results demonstrate that detailed experimental studies of aggressive calling behavior in anurans, which to this point have rarely been performed, are feasible and generate important insights relating to general problems in animal contest behavior and animal communication.

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Acknowledgments

Flavia Barbosa and two anonymous reviewers reviewed earlier versions of this manuscript. Tanya Drew, Nicholas Fowler, Timothy Golden, Daniel Gruhn, Carmen Harjoe, Will Li and Benjamin Nickelson assisted with the staged interactions and call analyses. Thanks to everyone in the Gerhardt lab for advice and assistance with frog collection and testing. Funding is provided by a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant to HCG and MSR (IOS 1010791), grants from the Chicago Herpetological Society, the Gaige Fund of the American Society for Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, and a Dean E. Metter Memorial Award from the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles to MSR, and a Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need fellowship from the University of Missouri and the US Department of Education (P200A070476). This article is part of MSR’s doctoral dissertation from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Ethical standards

These experiments comply with the current laws of the USA and were approved by the Animal Care and Use Committee of the University of Missouri (protocol nos. 1910 and 6546).

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Michael S. Reichert.

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Communicated by K. Warkentin

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Reichert, M.S., Gerhardt, H.C. Gray tree frogs, Hyla versicolor, give lower-frequency aggressive calls in more escalated contests. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 67, 795–804 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-013-1503-z

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Keywords

  • Anuran
  • Aggression
  • Hylid
  • Energetics
  • Contests