Adaptive plasticity in calling site selection in grey treefrogs (Hyla versicolor)

in Behaviour
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Calling behaviour is an essential component of gaining access to mates, and calling site selection may be an important component of effective communication. Environmental factors like microclimate, or the presence of competitors and predators often show seasonal or spatial variation, and behavioural plasticity that allows the caller to adjust to this variation may be adaptive. Prompted by the observation of across-season variation in elevated calling site use in our grey treefrog population, we formulated three hypotheses about their calling site choice and tested them using field observations and behavioural trials in the lab. We found that calling site selection is largely determined by local temperature regimes, and suggest that this temperature-based plasticity in calling site selection is adaptive because it allows males to increase their metabolic efficiency and mate attraction effectiveness. The mere presence of heterospecific competitors and predators did not affect calling site selection at the pond, but close proximity to a predator during behavioural trials did reduce calling activity. This suggests that grey treefrog males attend to the presence of predators, that they can assess the degree of risk associated with predator proximity, and that they can adjust calling behaviour adaptively to reduce the chances of being detected by a predator.

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References

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Figures

  • The proportion of grey treefrog males that called from terrestrial perches on each of the 8 observation nights. Note that on May 26, when air temperature was particularly low (see Figure 2d), the few grey treefrog males that did call all chose aquatic calling sites. The numbers on top of the chart denote sample size.

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  • Ambient air and water temperature, and their relation with frog body temperature during the study period. (a) Relationship between air and water temperature at locations frogs were observed calling. (b) Relationship between water temperature and frog body temperature in the cases where frogs were found calling in water. (c) Relationship between air temperature and frog body temperature in the cases frogs were found calling on terrestrial perches. (d) Body temperature (mean ± SD) of calling grey treefrog males on 8 observation nights, shown relative to the associated air (solid line) and water temperatures (dashed line). The numbers on top of the chart denote sample size. Note that early in the breeding season night-time air temperature was much lower than water temperature, while later in the season air temperature tended to be above water temperature.

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  • Calling activity of grey treefrogs (Hyla versicolor), spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) and bullfrogs/green frogs (Lithobates catesbeiana/L. clamitans) during the observation period. Since bullfrogs/green frogs became active at roughly the same time, and both prey on grey treefrogs, we lumped their activity data for this figure. Data on calling activity were obtained from the long-term recorders stationed at the pond.

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  • Perch site selection and calling activity of grey treefrogs during perch choice trials. (a) Grey treefrog males did not have a general preference for terrestrial perches, but choose them only when the air was warmer than the water; this choice was similar whether a predator was present (filled symbols) or absent (open symbols); when air and water temperature were the same, half the frogs choose terrestrial and half choose aquatic perches. (b) The majority of grey treefrog males started to call during the trials in which no predator was present (open symbols), while males largely refrained from calling when a predator was present (filled symbols). (c, d) The general patterns of perch selection (terrestrial when air is warmer than water) and calling activity (more males calling when predator is absent) were not affected by the absolute temperature values at which frogs were tested.

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