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Title: Glucocorticoid-Mediated Changes in Male Green Treefrog Vocalizations Alter Attractiveness to Females
Synopsis Adrenal glucocorticoids (GCs) are increasingly recognized as important modulators of male courtship signals, suggesting that circulating levels of these steroids can play a central role in sexual selection. However, few studies have examined whether GC-mediated effects on male sexual signals actually impact mate choice by females. Here, we examine how corticosterone (CORT)-mediated changes in the vocalizations of male green treefrogs, Dryophytes cinereus, influence attractiveness to females. In this species, agonistic acoustic signaling between rival males competing for mates increases circulating CORT levels in contest losers. Acute elevations in CORT, in turn, decrease the duration of male advertisement calls and increase the latency between successive calls, resulting in a net reduction in vocal effort (the amount of signaling per unit time) that occurs independently of changes in circulating androgens. Based on known preferences for acoustic features in D. cinereus, and other anuran species, the direction of CORT-mediated effects on temporal call characteristics is expected to compromise attractiveness to females, but whether they are of sufficient magnitude to impact female mate choice decisions is unclear. To examine whether CORT-mediated effects on male advertisement calls reduce attractiveness to females, we broadcast vocalizations in dual speaker playback experiments approximating the mean and 1 SD above and below the mean call duration and vocal effort values (the two primary vocal features impacted by elevated CORT) of males with low and high CORT levels. Results revealed strong preferences by females for the calls characteristic of males with low CORT in tests using the approximate mean and 1 SD above the mean call duration and vocal effort values, but females did not show a preference for calls of males with low CORT in trials using call values approximating 1 SD below the mean. Overall, females preferred males with signal traits predictive of low CORT, however this effect was nonlinear with attenuated preferences when signal alternatives differed only marginally indicating a possible thresholding effect. Specifically, females appeared to discriminate between males with low versus high CORT based primarily on differences in call rates associated with CORT-mediated changes in call duration and vocal effort. Our results highlight that changes in circulating CORT during male–male vocal interactions can decrease attractiveness to females, suggesting that circulating levels of CORT can play a critical role in both intra- and intersexual selection.  more » « less
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Integrative and Comparative Biology
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National Science Foundation
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