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Frogs Call at a Higher Pitch in Traffic Noise

Kirsten M Parris, University of Melbourne; Australian Research Centre for Urban Ecology, Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne
Meah Velik-Lord, University of Melbourne
Joanne M. A. North, University of Melbourne


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Male frogs call to attract females for mating and to defend territories from rival males. Female frogs of some species prefer lower-pitched calls, which indicate larger, more experienced males. Acoustic interference occurs when background noise reduces the active distance or the distance over which an acoustic signal can be detected. Birds are known to call at a higher pitch or frequency in urban noise, decreasing acoustic interference from low-frequency noise. Using Bayesian linear regression, we investigated the effect of traffic noise on the pitch of advertisement calls in two species of frogs, the southern brown tree frog (Litoria ewingii) and the common eastern froglet (Crinia signifera). We found evidence that L. ewingii calls at a higher pitch in traffic noise, with an average increase in dominant frequency of 4.1 Hz/dB of traffic noise, and a total effect size of 123 Hz. This frequency shift is smaller than that observed in birds, but is still large enough to be detected by conspecific frogs and confer a significant benefit to the caller. Mathematical modelling predicted a 24% increase in the active distance of a L. ewingii call in traffic noise with a frequency shift of this size. Crinia signifera may also call at a higher pitch in traffic noise, but more data are required to be confident of this effect. Because frog calls are innate rather than learned, the frequency shift demonstrated by L. ewingii may represent an evolutionary adaptation to noisy conditions. The phenomenon of frogs calling at a higher pitch in traffic noise could therefore constitute an intriguing trade-off between audibility and attractiveness to potential mates.

Key words

acoustic interference; ambient noise; amphibian decline; animal behavior; bioacoustics; road ecology; signal design; traffic noise; urban ecology; vocal communication; Litoria ewingii; Crinia signifera

Copyright © 2009 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087