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J Acoust Soc Am. 1998 Dec;104(6):3520-33.

Behavioral assessment of acoustic parameters relevant to signal recognition and preference in a vocal fish.

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Section of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA.


Acoustic signal recognition depends on the receiver's processing of the physical attributes of a sound. This study takes advantage of the simple communication sounds produced by plainfin midshipman fish to examine effects of signal variation on call recognition and preference. Nesting male midshipman generate both long duration (> 1 min) sinusoidal-like "hums" and short duration "grunts." The hums of neighboring males often overlap, creating beat waveforms. Presentation of humlike, single tone stimuli, but not grunts or noise, elicited robust attraction (phonotaxis) by gravid females. In two-choice tests, females differentiated and chose between acoustic signals that differed in duration, frequency, amplitude, and fine temporal content. Frequency preferences were temperature dependent, in accord with the known temperature dependence of hum fundamental frequency. Concurrent hums were simulated with two-tone beat stimuli, either presented from a single speaker or produced more naturally by interference between adjacent sources. Whereas certain single-source beats reduced stimulus attractiveness, beats which resolved into unmodulated tones at their sources did not affect preference. These results demonstrate that phonotactic assessment of stimulus relevance can be applied in a teleost fish, and that multiple signal parameters can affect receiver response in a vertebrate with relatively simple communication signals.

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