Acoustic communication signals degrade as they propagate between signalers and receivers. While we generally understand the degrading effects of sound propagation on the structure of acoustic signals, we know considerably less about how receivers make behavioral decisions based on the perception of degraded signals in sonically and structurally complex habitats where communication occurs. In this study of acoustic mate recognition in Cope's gray treefrog, Hyla chrysoscelis (Cope 1880), we investigated how the temporal structure of male advertisement calls was compromised by propagation in a natural habitat and how females responded to stimuli mimicking various levels of temporal degradation. In a sound transmission experiment, we quantified changes in the pulsed structure of signals by broadcasting synthetic calls during active choruses from positions where we typically encountered signalers, and re-recording the signals from positions where we typically encountered potential receivers. Our main finding was that the silent gaps between pulses become increasingly 'filled in' by background noise and reverberations as a function of increasing propagation distance. We also conducted female phonotaxis experiments to determine the threshold modulation depth required to elicit recognition of the pulsatile structure of the call. Females were surprisingly tolerant of degraded temporal structure, and there was a tendency for greater permissiveness at lower playback levels. We discuss these results in terms of presumed mechanisms of call recognition in complex environments and the acoustic adaptation hypothesis.
- Acoustic adaptation hypothesis
- Grey treefrog
- Modulation detection
- Sound propagation
- Sound transmission