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Behav Ecol Sociobiol. 2010 Nov 1;64(11):1791-1803.

Vocal competition in male Xenopus laevis frogs.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027, USA.


Male Xenopus laevis frogs produce underwater advertisement calls that attract gravid females and suppress calling by male competitors. Here we explore whether groups of males establish vocal ranks and whether auditory cues alone suffice for vocal suppression. Tests of male-male pairs within assigned groups reveal linear vocal dominance relations, in which each male has a defined rank. Both the duration over which males interact, as well as the number of competitive opportunities, affect linearity. Linear dominance across the group is stable for about 2 weeks; rank is dynamic. Males engage in physical interactions (clasping) while paired but clasping and vocal rank are not correlated. Playbacks of advertisement calls suppress calling and calls from high- and low-ranking males are equally effective. Thus, auditory cues alone suffice to suppress vocal behavior. Playback intensities equivalent to a nearby male advertising effectively suppress calling while low-intensity playbacks are either ineffective or stimulate vocal behavior. X. laevis advertisement calls are biphasic, composed of alternating fast and slow click trills. Approximately half the males tested are more vocally suppressed by all slow than by all fast trills; thus, these males can distinguish between the two phases. The fully aquatic family Pipidae diverged from terrestrial ancestors approximately 170 mya. Vocal suppression in the X. laevis mating system may represent the translation of an ancient anuran social strategy to underwater life.

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