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Conspicuous displays in cryptic males of a polytypic poison-dart frog

Abstract

The evolution of aposematism is linked to increased opportunities for conspicuous sexual displays since detection by potential predators is no longer disadvantageous. Therefore, phenotypic divergence in aposematic species leading to relatively cryptic forms is expected to constrain such opportunities, by restoring the trade-off between natural and sexual selection on the boldness of sexual displays. We asked if and how a derived phenotype of the poison-dart frog Oophaga granulifera that appears relatively cryptic to potential predators exhibits conspicuous sexual displays for potential mates. We used visual modeling of frog contrasts against their natural backgrounds to test if for conspecifics green frogs appear less conspicuous than red frogs as they do for birds. We conducted behavioral observations of focal red and green males to determine if green frogs adjust their display behavior to the availability of potential mates. Dorsal brightness is known to influence female preferences in at least one poison frog species. We found that, despite being less visible under some measures, green frogs may appear as bright as red frogs for conspecifics but not birds, when viewed on dark backgrounds. Additionally, green males called more intermittently than red males when advertising to distant females, but they exhibited a dramatic increase in calling activity in proximity of a female and were as active as red males in this context. Together, our results suggest that green frogs retain context-dependent conspicuousness to conspecifics despite the evolution of relative crypsis to potential predators.

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Acknowledgments

We thank to A. Vicente, J. Shik, V. Acosta, and E. Arias for their valuable assistance in the field. The Rainmaker Park, The Firestone Center for Restoration Ecology and Hacienda Barú provided permits and logistic support. We are grateful to Thomas Cronin who kindly provided the sensitivity spectra for the photoreceptors of strawberry poison frogs and Nathan Hart who provided sensitivity spectra for the photoreceptors of blue tits. We thank G. Barrantes, E. Fuchs, J. Shik, C. Dreher, K. Knorr, Martine Maan, and one anonymous reviewer for comments that improved the manuscript.

Ethical standards

This study complies with current Costa Rican legislation and was conducted under research permits of the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones of Costa Rica.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Beatriz Willink.

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Communicated by M. Gibbons

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Willink, B., Bolaños, F. & Pröhl, H. Conspicuous displays in cryptic males of a polytypic poison-dart frog. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 68, 249–261 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-013-1640-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-013-1640-4

Keywords

  • Aposematism
  • Crypsis
  • Dendrobatidae
  • Natural selection
  • Phenotypic divergence
  • Sexual selection
  • Visual modeling