Predicting and Measuring Decision Rules for Social Recognition in a Neotropical Frog

James P. Tumulty, Chloe A. Fouilloux, Johana Goyes Vallejos, Mark A. Bee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


AbstractMany animals use signals to recognize familiar individuals but risk making mistakes because the signal properties of different individuals often overlap. Furthermore, outcomes of correct and incorrect decisions yield different fitness payoffs, and animals incur these payoffs at different frequencies depending on interaction rates. To understand how signal variation, payoffs, and interaction rates shape recognition decision rules, we studied male golden rocket frogs, which recognize the calls of territory neighbors and are less aggressive to neighbors than to strangers. We first quantified patterns of individual variation in call properties and predicted optimal discrimination thresholds using signal variation. We then measured thresholds for discriminating between neighbors and strangers using a habituation-discrimination field playback experiment. Territorial males discriminated between calls differing by 9%-12% in temporal properties, slightly higher than the predicted thresholds (5%-10%). Finally, we used a signal detection theory model to explore payoff and interaction rate parameters and found that the empirical threshold matched those predicted under ecologically realistic assumptions of infrequent encounters with strangers and relatively costly missed detections of strangers. We demonstrate that receivers group continuous variation in vocalizations into discrete social categories and that signal detection theory can be applied to understand evolved decision rules.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E77-E92
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We sincerely thank Godfrey Bourne and Beth Pettitt for advice and logistical assistance, Maxwell Basil and Thomas John for field assistance, Joseph Tumulty for assistance with modeling, and David Stephens, Emilie Snell-Rood, Michael Wilson, and two anonymous reviewers for critical feedback on earlier drafts. Permission to conduct this research was granted by the Guyana Environmental Protection Agency (permit no. 040717 BR 004) and the Guyana Protected Areas Commission. All research procedures were approved under University of Minnesota Institutional Animal Care and Use Protocol 1701-34456A. This research was funded by the Rosemary Grant Award from the Society for the Study of Evolution and the Lewis and Clark Fund grant from the American Philosophical Society to J.P.T., as well as a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement grant (no. 1601493) to J.P.T. and M.A.B.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.


  • acoustic communication
  • dear enemy effect
  • decision rules
  • rocket frog
  • signal detection theory
  • social recognition
  • Aggression
  • Vocalization, Animal
  • Male
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Anura
  • Territoriality
  • Animals

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.


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