Environmental constraints on size-dependent signaling affects mating and rival interactions

Judith A.H. Smit, Hugo Loning, Michael J. Ryan, Wouter Halfwerk*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Advertisement signals can convey information about a sender's characteristics, such as body size. The reliability of signals, however, can be reduced when signal production is partially dependent on the environment. Here, we assess the effect of display-site properties on the production, attractiveness and honesty of sexual signals. We recorded male túngara frogs (Physalaemus pustulosus) while manipulating water levels in order to constrain calling. We found that water level affected male call properties in a size-dependent manner, with call amplitude being less affected in smaller males when forced to call in shallow water. Next, we tested how size-dependent and display-site-dependent signaling affected female choice and rival competition. Both males and females showed the strongest response to the call of a large male when he was calling at the deepest water levels. However, females showed no preference for large over small males when both were recorded in shallow water levels, or, depending on the call rate and timing of calls, even preferred small males. Likewise, males responded equally to large and small rivals recorded calling during shallow water level trials. Our experiments show that display-site properties can influence signal production and attractiveness in a size-dependent manner. These results can have important consequences for the evolution of signaling, as small males may be able to use their size to their advantage when selecting appropriate display sites and thereby outcompete large males.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberarz009
Pages (from-to)724-732
Number of pages9
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number3
Early online date15 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


  • Display site
  • Honest signaling
  • Physalaemus pustulosus
  • Production constraints
  • Sexual selection

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