Female frogs discriminate among potential mates based on individual variation in male advertisement calls. While considerable data have accumulated allowing comparisons of female preference functions among species, we still lack fundamental knowledge about how and why the shapes of preference functions for particular call properties vary among populations within all but a few species. Here, we report results from a study aimed at describing female preference functions for spectral call properties in Cope's gray treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis). Widespread throughout the eastern half of North America, Cope's gray treefrog is the diploid member of the cryptic diploid-tetraploid Hyla versicolor species complex, and its populations are divided into two distinct genetic lineages (eastern and western). In this study of a western lineage population, we recorded and analyzed the spectral properties of 1000 advertisement calls from 50 males and conducted two-choice phonotaxis experiments to estimate a population-level preference function. Females preferred calls with average frequencies over calls with frequencies that were 2 or 3 semitones (1.4 or 2.1 standard deviations, respectively) lower than the population mean. We observed no behavioral discrimination between calls with average and higher-than-average frequencies. Preferences discriminating against low-frequency calls were weak and were abolished by attenuating the preferred average call by 3 dB. We discuss these results in light of previous studies of eastern lineage populations, geographic variation in female preference functions, and the potential adaptive value of discriminating against calls with low frequencies.
Keywords: character displacement; communication; geographic variation; mate choice; preference function; spectral properties.