Complex sensory environments alter mate choice outcomes

Ryan C. Taylor, Kyle O. Wilhite, Rosalind J. Ludovici, Kelsey M. Mitchell, Wouter Halfwerk, Rachel A. Page, Michael J. Ryan, Kimberly L. Hunter

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Noise is a common problem in animal communication. We know little, however, about how animals communicate in the presence of noise using multimodal signals. Multimodal signals are hypothesised to be favoured by evolution because they increase the efficacy of detection and discrimination in noisy environments. We tested the hypothesis that female túngara frogs' responses to attractive male advertisement calls are improved in noise when a visual signal component is added to the available choices. We tested this at two levels of decision complexity (two and three choices). In a two-choice test, the presence of noise did not reduce female preferences for attractive calls. The visual component of a calling male, associated with an unattractive call, also did not reduce preference for attractive calls in the absence of noise. In the presence of noise, however, females were more likely to choose an unattractive call coupled with the visual component. In three-choice tests, the presence of noise alone reduced female responses to attractive calls and this was not strongly affected by the presence or absence of visual components. The responses in these experiments fail to support the multimodal signal efficacy hypothesis. Instead, the data suggest that audio-visual perception and cognitive processing, related to mate choice decisions, are dependent on the complexity of the sensory scene.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalThe Journal of experimental biology
Early online date13 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jan 2021


  • Cognitive load
  • Mate choice
  • Multimodal signalling
  • Noise
  • Túngara frog

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