Female call preferences in tree-hole frogs: why are there so many unattractive males?
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In tree-hole frogs, Metaphrynella sundana, the fundamental call frequency varies widely between males. In field playback experiments, females strongly preferred calls from the lower range of frequencies found in the population. There was no correlation, however, between male size and call frequency, as is normally the case for anurans, so large males were not necessarily more attractive to females. Presence or absence of upper harmonics in the call had no effect on female choice. Tree holes with shallow air columns were more often used by calling frogs, and were presumably more common, than deep holes. Since male M. sundana actively exploit the resonant properties of tree holes for mate attraction, and high frequencies match comparatively shallow holes, the benefits of attaining acoustic matching probably select for high-frequency calls. In addition, males with high-frequency calls may be heard from a greater distance in the vicinity of torrent streams. Since the level of such noise in the forest varies in time and space, different frequencies may prove optimal in different contexts, thereby preserving the observed variation within the population. Having an 'unattractive' high-frequency call should be potentially beneficial only when calling males do not congregate, a condition that our data suggest is fulfilled in this system.