Environmental and morphological constraints interact to drive the evolution of communication signals in frogs

Matías I. Muñoz*, Sandra Goutte, Jacintha Ellers, Wouter Halfwerk

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    Animals show a rich diversity of signals and displays. Among the many selective forces driving the evolution of communication signals, one widely recognized factor is the structure of the environment where animals communicate. In particular, animals communicating by sounds often emit acoustic signals from specific locations, such as high up in the air, from the ground or in the water. The properties of these different display sites may impose different constraints on sound production, and therefore drive signal evolution. Here, we used comparative phylogenetic analyses to assess the relationship between calling site (aquatic versus nonaquatic), body size and call dominant frequency of 160 frog species from the families Ranidae, Leptodactylidae and Hylidae. We found that the frequency of frogs calling from the water was lower than that of species calling outside of the water, a trend that was consistent across the three families studied. Furthermore, phylogenetic path analysis revealed that call site had both direct and indirect effects on call frequency. Indirect effects were mediated by call site influencing male body size, which in turn was negatively associated with call frequency. Our results suggest that properties of display sites can drive signal evolution, most likely not only through morphological constraints imposed on the sound production mechanism, but also through changes in body size, highlighting the relevance of the interplay between morphological adaptation and signal evolution. Changes in display site may therefore have important evolutionary consequences, as it may influence sexual selection processes and ultimately may even promote speciation.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1749-1757
    Number of pages9
    JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
    Issue number12
    Early online date12 Oct 2020
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


    • constraint
    • display site
    • dominant frequency
    • frog
    • signal evolution
    • vocal communication


    Dive into the research topics of 'Environmental and morphological constraints interact to drive the evolution of communication signals in frogs'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this