Mate choice and the ‘opposite miss’ to Weber's law: proportional processing governs signal preferences in a treefrog

Katie LaBarbera, Peggy B. Nelson, Mark A. Bee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


According to Weber's law, discrimination between stimuli is based upon the proportional difference (ΔI/I), not the absolute difference (ΔI), between their magnitudes (I). How such nonlinear processing of signal information by receivers impacts the effectiveness of communication and drives patterns of signal evolution remains poorly understood. To investigate whether female preferences for exaggerated sexual signals follow Weber's law, we tested females of Cope's grey treefrog, Hyla chrysoscelis, in two-alternative choice tests, in which we varied both the absolute (ΔI) and proportional (ΔI/I) differences in duration between two advertisement calls. Consistent with Weber's law, female preferences for longer signals increased as ΔI/I increased; however, preferences were negatively related to both ΔI and absolute signal duration (I). This so-called ‘opposite miss’ to Weber's law (i.e. poorer discrimination performance than predicted at high stimulus magnitudes) has potential to shape signal evolution in distinct ways that differ in the extent to which further signal exaggeration is favoured. Our results highlight that animals use a diversity of approaches to information coding in perception, including coding that is neither linear nor strictly proportional according to Weber's law, and that perceptual processes have the potential to impact an important selective pressure – female preferences – and shape animal communication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)199-209
Number of pages11
JournalAnimal Behaviour
StatePublished - Oct 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Miranda Dahl, Zhaojun Fu, Giovanni Gallo, Olivia Groth, Max Hoffer, Bella Lockhart, Jordyn Massop, Erika Mueller, Matt Paruzynski, Jared Rieck, Annika Ruppert, Carrie Thom, Maya Vellicolungara, Marae Vipond and Joann Wu for help collecting and testing animals, Saumya Gupta for technical support and John Moriarty, the Three Rivers Park District, the Ramsey County Department of Parks and Recreation and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for after-hours access to animal collection sites. This work was supported by the University of Minnesota Center for Applied and Translational Sensory Science, a Grand Challenges in Biology Postdoctoral Fellowship from the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences (to K.L.) and a grant from the National Science Foundation (IOS-1452831, to M.A.B.).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour


  • Hyla chrysoscelis
  • Weber's law
  • acoustic communication
  • gray treefrog
  • mate choice
  • proportional processing
  • sexual selection
  • signal evolution


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