The world is a noisy place, and animals have evolved a myriad of strategies to communicate in it. Animal communication signals are, however, often multimodal; their components can be processed by multiple sensory systems, and noise can thus affect signal components across different modalities. We studied the effect of environmental noise on multimodal communication in the túngara frog (Physalaemus pustulosus). Males communicate with rivals using airborne sounds combined with call-induced water ripples. We tested males under control as well as noisy conditions in which we mimicked rainand wind-induced vibrations on the water surface. Males responded more strongly to a multimodal playback in which sound and ripples were combined, compared to a unimodal sound-only playback, but only in the absence of rain and wind. Under windy conditions, males decreased their response to the multimodal playback, suggesting that wind noise interferes with the detection of rival ripples. Under rainy conditions, males increased their response, irrespective of signal playback, suggesting that different noise sources can have different impacts on communication. Our findings show that noise in an additional sensory channel can affect multimodal signal perception and thereby drive signal evolution, but not always in the expected direction.
Halfwerk, W. H., & Ryan, M. J. (2016). Wind- and Rain-Induced Vibrations Impose Different Selection Pressures on Multimodal Signaling. The American Naturalist, 188(3), 279-288. https://doi.org/10.1086/687519