Experience-based plasticity of acoustically evoked aggression in a territorial frog

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Territorial male bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) display lower levels of aggression toward familiar territorial neighbors compared to unfamiliar individuals based on the perception of individual differences in vocalizations. Stimulus-specific habituation elicited by repeated exposures to a neighbor's vocalizations is believed to play a role in mediating the low levels of aggression between neighbors. The present study describes habituation in multiple components of the bull-frog territorial aggressive response and examines whether these separate response components habituate at similar or different rates. In response to repeated broadcasts of synthetic bullfrog advertisement calls in a field playback experiment, the numbers of aggressive calls and movements, the latency to the first aggressive call, and the distance approached toward the playback speaker exhibited significant response decrements that developed at nearly identical rates. All four responses exhibited recovery upon subsequent broadcasts of a novel stimulus simulating a different individual. In contrast, the number of advertisement calls did not exhibit significant decrements with repeated playbacks. The patterns of stimulus-specific response decrement were inconsistent with explanations such as sensory adaptation, effector fatigue, non-specific changes in motivation, and a simple form of auditory habituation. Possible mechanisms for the observed plasticity in aggression are discussed in the context of anuran communication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)485-496
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2003

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements I thank S. Harris and especially C. Bowling for assistance in conducting playback tests; D. Martin, J. Koppelman, and the Missouri Department of Conservation for access to the Little Dixie Lake Conservation Area; T. Schachtman for helpful discussions; and H.C. Gerhardt and J. Schwartz for providing equipment and technical assistance. H.C. Gerhardt and two anonymous referees provided helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. The author was supported by a Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant from the National Science Foundation. The research in this manuscript was approved by the University of Missouri IACUC (protocol no. 3479) and complies with the Principles of animal care, publication No. 86-23, revised 1985, of the National Institute of Health, and all of the laws of the United States of America.


  • Acoustic communication
  • Behavioral plasticity
  • Habituation
  • Rana catesbeiana
  • Territorial aggression


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